Special Report: Angel Eye cameras help parents bond with sick babies

Posted at 8:58 AM, May 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-21 09:58:09-04

Driscoll Children’s Hospital cares for hundreds of babies in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit every year.

Those babies are among the tiniest and sickest in the Coastal Bend. Often, the babies are transported from surrounding communities to receive NICU treatment at Driscoll.

Some babies will spend weeks in the NICU, some will be there for months. Unfortunately, parents cannot always be there. But a special camera system in the NICU is allowing parents the ability to always see their babies.

Regina Darileck spends countless hours at the NICU with her newborn son, Reed. Baby Reed was delivered seven weeks premature in his parent’s hometown of Victoria, Texas.

"He was supposed to be born June 18th and he was born April 30th," she said. "He was 3 pounds and 4 ounces when he was born. So he’s pretty little."

Baby Reed was transferred to Driscoll Children’s Hospital immediately after his birth. Darileck says Reed is suffering from a problem with his lungs but he’s getting stronger.

Being that Regina and her husband are from out of town, they, like so many other parents, cannot always be at the NICU but they can see their son anytime they want through a web camera system called Angel Eye.

"They can be at work, they can be at home, they can be waking up at three in the morning stressed out or concerned or upset, and they can be miles and miles hundreds of miles away and they can just turn on the phone and there it is," said Dr. Miguel DeLeon, Driscoll Children’s Hospital NICU Medical Director.

Thirty NICU beds are currently equipped with cameras. Parents can tap into those cameras by logging into a program through their phone, tablet, or computer anytime day or night from any place to get a glimpse of their babies.

The idea was first pitched by Dr. Chris Joyal who saw the system during a conference a few years ago.

"When I brought this in, my whole intent was ‘what can I do for the families that we serve in the 33 counties that we serve’, because 60-70 percent of our families are from the surrounding areas," said Dr. Joyal, Driscoll Children’s Hospital NICU Director.

The cameras were purchased with money raised during yearly fundraisers. Dr. Joyal says the initial cost was approximately $100,000 with an estimated yearly operating cost of $20,000, also paid for through fundraisers.

Eventually doctors want a camera on every NICU bed, saying the program helps moms bond with their babies in ways not possible before.

"This is a technology that we probably only dreamed for 5-10 years ago that we would want to have in the neonatal ICU. Fortunately, now it is available," said Dr. DeLeon.

That constant connection gives parents like Regina peace of mind seeing that her baby is being cared for even when she can’t be there.

"You know, to be able to wake up in the middle of the night and see your baby, just to check on him," she said.

One added benefit: nurses at the hospital say since the camera system was installed, they’ve seen so much improvement in the mom-baby bonding experience that it’s helped nursing mothers with lactation.

Driscoll Children’s Hospital hopes to eventually have 55 Angel Eye cameras available.