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Grand Strand Medical Center adds neonatal doctor to treat sick babies locally

Grand Stand Medical Center has added a neonatologist to the list of doctors at their hospital. (Sydney Glenn/WPDE)

Grand Stand Medical Center has added a neonatologist to the list of doctors at their hospital. On Wednesday, they started a new program which has been in the works for about a year.

Neonatologists are specialized doctors who care for sick babies. There are only about 4,000 of them across the country, Dr. Art Shepard said.

Right now, neonatologists from other counties in South Carolina are working at the hospital as officials work to recruit two permanent neonatologists who will live in the area, hospital spokesperson Julie Kopnicky said. Grand Stand Medical Center is now the only hospital in Horry County to have a neonatologist either in the hospital or on-call at all times, she said.

The hospital has a level II nursery, and not a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) so some sick babies will still have to be transported to either Florence or Charleston NICUs, Shepard said.

"We can take care of babies as young as 32 weeks gestational, so about 8 weeks early, we can take babies that are as small as 1500 grams at birth, which is about 3 1/2 pounds, and we can maintain babies on mechanical ventilation for as long as 24 hours. If babies are smaller than that, less mature than that, or require more respiratory therapy than that they still need to go to the regional perinatal center," he said

Shepard is the neonatologist on staff this week at Grand Strand Medical Center.

"Grand Strand Medical Center delivers about 1,000 babies a year and between 8-10 percent of all babies need specialty neonatal care. If babies need respiratory support or prolonged tube feeding, for example, because they're early those babies would ordinarily have to go to Charleston or Florence and so that's about a hundred babies a year that have to leave just for those reasons," Shepard said.

Shepard said he's excited that more babies will be able to be treated here and be near their mothers and families.

"We are looking forward to the opportunity to keep those babies here. Keeping babies and moms together is so important. It's important to facilitate breast feeding, we want to encourage that. And keeping families together is the best way to get a family off to a healthy start," he said.

OB/GYN Dr. Tracey Golden agreed. She said as the population continues to grow in our area, this was an important decision.

"It's priceless because unfortunately the NICUS are at least an hour and a half to two hours from this local region and for many families that means they're taken away from their other children or their support network," she said.

And having this new resource has expecting mother Emerald Rabon feeling more at ease. She has a high-risk and complicated pregnancy.

"I'm going to be delivering really early and she's going to be super small and not as developed so that's even more scary," she said.

Rabon met with Dr. Shepard this week and said it's nice to know there is a good chance her baby girl, even if she comes weeks and weeks early, will be able to stay in Myrtle Beach.

"You think of a pregnancy and the baby just pops out and they're doing great and mine is going to be hooked up to machine and tubes going in and out of her. It's scary," she said.

Rabon's OB/GYN is happy to have the additional resource.

"We no longer have to worry about the care of those small infants because his expertise allows us to provide that level of care to moms in our community with infants at that age," Golden said.

Other hospitals in Horry County have partnerships that allow them access to specialized care, like this, so that all their patients have the best and safest care possible.

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