Centers specialize in women and children

By Jennifer Lassiter
star staff

  The Center for Women's Health at the Johnson City Medical Center (JCMC) is one of five pre-natal centers in the state, serving 24 counties in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Southeast Kentucky and parts of Northwest North Carolina.
  The center specializes in premature infants and is designed to care for babies born at just 21 to 23 weeks. It is considered a level three care center. The Children's Hospital at the Medical Center is also level three. Both centers provide care for the special needs of high risk mothers and children within the region.
   The Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery within the JCMC is equipped with the latest in technology, according to the Executive Director of the Center for Women's Health, Lisa Smithgall. Once a prenatal nurse, Smithgall is now in charge of women and children related issues within Mountain States Health Alliance.
  "The ventilated care system provided for the preemies are a major factor which has revolutionized care due to the growth in science and technology," said Smithgall.
  The med center has spent approximately $2-$3 million in research and development, specifically high tech equipment and creating a more cozy atmosphere for patients and children. Details such as lighting, painted ceilings and a room dedicated specifically to breastfeeding are designed with the patient and their families in mind.
  Dr. Bedford Bonta, a pediatrician who specializes in neonatal medicine, has been working with the little miracles for 10 years now. Bonta said he has seen advances in technology grow take place in neonatal care over the years. "1971 revolutionized neonatal medicine," said Bonta, referring to the ventilated positive pressure system.
  Current technology has provided doctors with the ability help preemies breathe easier by monitoring the breathing process using three varying ventilation systems: isolating, jet or synchronized. Each provides oxygen to the tiny babies at a rate specifically for them.
  The smallest baby ever treated at JCMC weighed only 13 ounces, just a tad bigger than a canned drink. The weight compared to the gestation rate is a key factor in the survival of the baby, said Bonta. The mortality rate, which once hovered around 80 percent in the early 60's, has drastically improved to around 10 percent due to technology.
  The Wall of Hope, a new project displayed on the wall outside the Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery for mothers to see, is a reminder of lives saved at JCMC. A simple handprint with a name and date can be enough to inspire a mother in need of a miracle.