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40 Years of the Highest Level of Neonatal Care

After nearly 40 years working as a neonatologist in the WakeMed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Dr. Ross Vaughan recently officially retired.  Although he missed the opening of Wake County’s first Neonatal Intensive Care Unit by four years, he provided exceptional care to Wake County’s tiniest babies and their families and has seen the unit grow and change over time. Here are a few of his thoughts on how the nursery has changed and what makes our nursery special.

Ross Vaughan, MD

When I began working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I worked every other night and every other weekend for nine years until we added an additional physician.  Our facility was very small, our therapeutic options were much more limited, and we only provided intervention to babies who were at least 28 week gestation and weighed more than two pounds.  In those days, most moms didn’t get steroids in advance of delivery to help with lung maturity, and we didn’t have surfactant for babies so respiratory problems were much more severe.

Today, a baby who is 2 pounds and 28 weeks gestation almost always survives and thrives.   Back in 1977 we weren’t able to make those guarantees.  We are also now providing intervention for babies who are only 23 to 24 weeks gestation and weigh as little as 1.25 lbs.  We’re focused on providing developmentally supportive care, controlling the light and sound and offering families private rooms that provide a better environment for their baby’s growth and development as well as family bonding

The other big change from 1977 to today in the NICU is the access to pediatric specialists. In 1977 we didn’t have subspecialists – except a pediatric infectious disease physician. Now, we are fortunate to have pediatric radiologists, cardiologists, neurologists, gastroenterologists, surgeons, endocrinologists, urologists and ophthalmologists all just a text away.

When I’m asked what I am most proud of about our NICU, it is without a doubt the dedication and talent of the nursing staff.   I was always so proud to watch our nurses interact with families and to see the care and support they provided.  It was truly inspirational.  I also think that the developmentally supportive care the nursery offers through the NIDCAP philosophy and our in-house Mother’s Milk Bank are the things that truly separate the WakeMed Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit from other nurseries in our community and region.

Dr. Vaughan, thank you for your service and dedication to neonatal care in Wake County and at WakeMed. You have positively impacted your co-workers and thousands of teeny tiny babies during your tenure.