Premature infants blooming, thanks to the UT Physicians Pediatric Center Neonatal High Risk Clinic
Noah Ordaz and Asher Tate both came into this world extremely early, with each infant arriving just 23 weeks into his mother’s pregnancy.
Each baby had his own medical complications. Noah, who was born weighing 1 pound and 2 ounces, spent nearly nine months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital with chronic lung disease, pulmonary hypertension, breathing difficulties, a congenital heart defect, brain bleeds, two abdominal hernias, rib fractures, and hypothyroidism. He also required a feeding tube.
Meanwhile, Asher, who was born with a 10% chance of survival, spent five months in the same NICU with chronic lung disease, pulmonary hypertension, one abdominal hernia, a potentially blinding eye disorder, a blockage and infection of the small intestine requiring surgical correction, and a feeding tube.
After each infant was discharged from the NICU – Noah in November 2020 and Asher in December 2020 – both were followed at the UT Physicians Pediatric Center Neonatal High Risk Clinic for their continued care.
The specialty clinic provides comprehensive care to infants discharged from the NICU, offering routine general pediatric care as well as ongoing care for all the complex medical needs for NICU graduates. It is part of the prestigious Neonatal Research Network and is one of only two clinics in Texas of its kind.
At the clinic, both Noah and Asher were handed into the care of pediatrician Fatima Boricha, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics with McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth Houston).
“When Noah and Asher came to me for their first visit after NICU discharge, they were just a few months old and required a lot of care and support as they were on oxygen, feeding tubes, and had multiple follow-ups with specialists. Our clinic is designed for kids like Noah and Asher, and our goal is to provide exceptional care to medically complex infants and provide a medical home to this vulnerable population,” Boricha said. “Most of our patients are preterm infants born at less than 27 weeks’ gestation, but we also see other medically complex NICU graduates.”
Births are considered preterm when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, babies born less than 32 weeks into a pregnancy have especially higher rates of death and disability, with approximately 1 million children dying each year due to complications of preterm birth, according to the World Health Organization.
Boricha and fellow clinicians Tina Reddy, MD, and Janice John, PNP, who have provided care to NICU graduates for over a decade, are well-trained and able to manage feeding tubes, oxygen, and other equipment as well as provide continuity of care and ongoing developmental, behavioral, and growth assessment.
Boricha said the clinic takes pride in caring for these infants, with providers and staff feeling great joy in seeing their patients thriving and parents smiling.
Noah’s mother, Lisa Ordaz, is certainly one of those parents. Her water broke 18 weeks into her pregnancy, and she spent five weeks in the hospital before giving birth to Noah on Leap Day, Feb. 29, 2020.
“He’s one of those kids who walks in and says, ‘Hello world, I’m here,’” Ordaz said of her bouncing baby boy. “He’s joyful, hard-headed, and hilarious, and he wants to be the center of attention.”
Still, with all the issues Noah endured at birth, Ordaz felt lost and turned to prayer. She felt as though a weight was lifted off her shoulders when Noah was admitted to the high risk clinic, where he is followed by Boricha, his primary care physician; Maria Caldas-Vasquez, MD, his endocrinologist; Ricardo Mosquera, MD, his pulmonologist; and other specialists with UTHealth Houston as needs arise.
Today, Noah is eating by mouth and weaning off his oxygen tank. He’s also crawling and trying to walk and talk.
“We travel from two hours away just to go to this clinic,” said Ordaz, who lives in Lufkin, Texas. “For moms going through the NICU, it’s so important to have a good support system. I don’t think I would’ve made it without my village behind me at Children’s Memorial Hermann. I feel like the staff at the high-risk clinic have become another village for me.”
Asher’s mother, Tameka Tate, is also happy. Asher never cries when he goes to the clinic, Tate said, and he’s continuing to grow at a healthy, steady clip. It has allowed Tate to see even more of her son’s bright personality.
“He’s just really goofy – he sleeps with his hand behind his head, and he loves to play and laugh,” Tate said. “He’s also very active and strong – he’s started pulling himself up to the point where he can’t sleep in his bassinet anymore because he wants to stand up.”
Other than Boricha, his primary care physician, Asher sees Mosquera for pulmonology in the UT Physicians High Risk Children’s Clinic, along with other specialists at UTHealth Houston.
Thanks to this team and Asher’s strong will, the 1-year-old is no longer on oxygen, and he’s slowly starting to eat by mouth.
“It’s all very exciting considering one year ago, they didn’t think he’d be able to move,” Tate said. “We call him our tiny hero. My baby is a blessing to a lot of people.”
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