First-time parents Chandni and Abhay waited two weeks to hold their son, Atharv. Born at 27 weeks weighing just 700 grams, Atharv spent his first two weeks at a local hospital. When he was diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, he was rushed to Lurie Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where a team of specialists was ready to take care of him.
Although the new parents were anxious to get to know Atharv and see him grow healthier and stronger, they felt their family was in good hands at Lurie Children’s.
“From the beginning, his team always included us in every conversation, educated us and gave us options in regards to his care,” his mom Chandni said.
As Atharv continued to grow in the NICU, his team found that his lungs were severely underdeveloped, a complication commonly found in very premature babies. They diagnosed him with bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a form of chronic lung disease. A team of physicians from Lurie Children’s BPD Program tried different forms of breathing technology to help support Atharv’s lung function, and intubated him so that he could breathe and receive enough oxygen.
Dr. Megan Lagoski, medical director of the BPD program, and her team were invested in an all-encompassing approach to Atharv’s care that supported every aspect of his growth and development. “Our goal was to support him from a respiratory standpoint so he can learn, grow and develop cognitive and social skills. When a baby is only focused on breathing, they don’t have the energy and focus to learn new things like reach for toys, roll over or sit up.”
A team of therapists treated Atharv and worked closely with his parents to teach them techniques to support their son’s progress. An occupational therapist, Lee Ryan, worked closely with Chandni and Abhay to ensure they could support his growth while also bonding with him.
“It can be difficult for NICU parents to know how to help their child with they are dependent on technology,” Lee said. “Together, we worked on how they could keep him in a good position in their arms, help him tolerate bath-time, and soothe him.
Atharv also worked with a speech therapist to practice pre-feeding skills and oral stimulation as well as holding spoons and beginning communication skills. With time and expert care, he eventually outgrew his heart arrhythmia and his team managed NEC with antibiotics.
With Chandni and Abhay’s families in India, and a global pandemic limiting travel, the new parents sought a support system at Lurie Children’s. Through the hospital’s Family Services program, the couple met regularly with a chaplain who offered spiritual support, blessings and a listening ear. They also benefited from the services of a care coordinator from the Little Heroes League, who scheduled meetings with the NICU care team and clustered Atharv’s procedures to minimize exposure to anesthesia.
With time, Atharv’s breathing improved and the team was able to reduce his respiratory support to a level on which he could go home. After eight months in the NICU, Atharv went home for the first time in April 2021. The multidisciplinary collaboration, a pillar of the BPD program at Lurie Children’s, was able to support Atharv’s respiratory, nutritional and developmental needs to the point where he was medically ready to transition home where babies grow and develop best.
“Since he has been home, we can see learn and grow with each passing day,” Chandni said. “He is a happy social baby who loves to interact with his environment. Within a month, Atharv was able to come off of all the respiratory support. His team at Lurie Children’s is closely following his growth and development to make sure he is on the right track and catches up on his development.”
According to Chandni, the team at Lurie Children’s didn’t only save Atharv’s life—they have helped him thrive.
“He’s a different baby now,” she said. “He smiles and plays. He’s very social. He loves to talk. He’s a happy kid.”