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The new name for the small baby unit inside USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital was unveiled on Oct. 21, 2020, during a surprise ceremony.

Published Oct 27th, 2020

By Casandra Andrews

A new name for the small baby unit inside USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital was unveiled on Oct. 21, 2020, during a surprise ceremony. Members of the Level III neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) collectively donated $25,000 to name the small baby unit in honor of longtime neonatologist Fabien Eyal, M.D. Ph.D.

Eyal serves as the Louise Lenoir Locke Professor of Neonatology, chief of the division of neonatology and a professor of pediatrics at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine. He joined the department of neonatology in 1994.

The staff surprised Eyal this week, presenting him with a small plaque like the one that now bears his name outside the entrance to small baby unit. Because of COVID-19 precautions, dozens of former colleagues, patients and their parents watched Eyal accept the recognition from a Zoom call set up on a laptop.

Colleagues say it is because of Eyal’s leadership that the intensive care unit for extremely premature infants has some of the best outcomes for babies born as early as 22 weeks.

“We are among the best in the nation because of Dr. Eyal’s never-ending quest for improvement,” said Cathy McCurley, RN, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Supervisor at Children’s & Women’s Hospital. “In the past 25 years he has never stopped working on improving the outcomes and survival of our patients. A large part of that is his willingness to try to save little babies when other places were not trying.”

The NICU at Children’s & Women’s Hospital has a long history of helping the smallest babies thrive. In a two-year period from 2016 to 2018, more than 96 percent of the babies born at 26 weeks gestation survived at the Mobile, Ala., hospital. The survival rate for babies born at 22 weeks during the same time period at Children’s & Women’s Hospital was close to 70 percent. Typically, 1,000 babies a year “graduate” from the neonatal intensive care unit.

As part of the region’s only academic health system, Eyal and other faculty members help train the next generation of physicians and other care providers through USA’s College of Medicine. He and other members of the NICU staff also take part in ongoing scientific research.

“Everyone is in the mode of striving to learn something new and putting it into practice using the latest evidence,” McCurley said. “It’s such a part of our culture that definitely sets us apart from hospitals who are not in the same mind set with the process of ongoing research.”

McCurley had been working in the NICU as a nurse for about four years when she delivered babies that needed to spend time in the unit. Her children are 20 now. They stayed in the NICU four months before being able to go home.

“We are very thankful Dr. Eyal invested so much time here and continues to share his huge wealth of knowledge,” McCurley said. “He pushes us to continue to strive for improvement. We are so proud of our outcomes and it’s definitely a team effort, but he is definitely the leader of that team.”

In the summer of 2019, the small baby unit opened within the NICU at Children’s & Women’s.

Research shows babies born before 28 weeks gestation or weighing less than 1,000 grams have better health outcomes in a program where a specially trained team provides around the clock care. The small baby unit staff is comprised of a multidisciplinary team of highly-trained neonatologists, nurse practitioners, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, lactation consultants and pharmacists who have undergone advanced education.

The NICU and now the small baby unit also offers an exceptional team of social workers and nurses trained as parent educators who help with everything from dealing with the challenges of having an infant in the NICU to home health needs and specialized follow-up care.

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