After waiting excitedly for the arrival of their first child, Anna and Nick Glandon watched their newborn son, Cameron, struggle to take his first few breaths. Born four weeks early, Cameron was immediately transferred to CHKD’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Cameron had persistent pulmonary hypertension, a lifethreatening condition that occurs when the blood vessels in a newborn’s lungs don’t open enough, restricting the amount of oxygen to the brain and organs. The cause of persistent pulmonary hypertension is unknown, but it usually occurs in babies born full term, or at no less than 34 weeks.

For four weeks, the Glandons didn’t even get to hear their baby cry, as his breathing was assisted by a ventilator. Fortunately, CHKD’s newly renovated NICU, which now has 50 private patient rooms and another 10 with two beds each, gave the Virginia Beach couple the privacy they needed to bond with Cameron as his lungs recovered.

“I truly feel like CHKD saved his life,” says Cameron’s mom, Anna.

CHKD has been taking care of the region’s sickest newborns since 1972 when it opened its first NICU. At that time, the tiny babies shared a 20-bed unit in a single large room with older children who also needed intensive care. Over the years, the NICU gained its own space, more beds, and more sophisticated technology in “pods” of six to nine babies, making it the region’s largest and most sophisticated intensive care unit for newborns. In September of 2020, CHKD completed its most recent NICU transformation, bringing patients the latest in features and advancements for neonatal care.

High on the list of innovations is privacy for patient families like the Glandons. All 70 beds in CHKD’s new NICU have ample space for a parent to spend the night, rest, and get to know their baby. The latest technology in monitors allows NICU staff to easily track how babies are doing and to provide the latest in treatments. “These tiny babies really need more space than you would think,” says neonatologist Dr. Jamil Khan, medical director of the unit.

The trend in NICUs across the country is moving toward a more individualized environment so levels of light and noise can be adjusted to meet each baby’s needs, and parents can spend quality time with their infants. A tiny, premature baby, for instance, may need a quiet, dim environment, while older babies benefit from more stimulation, such as more light, and more talk and touch from caregivers.

The unit admits about 500 babies a year, with an average length of stay of 41 days. The tiniest babies, those weighing less than 1,000 grams, stay an average of 87 days.

The renovated unit has a whimsical oak tree in the lobby, with an owl peeking out from a knothole. A family lounge area has a kitchen, room for classes on baby care, and a store where parents can buy books and clothing with “NICU bucks” they earn by attending parenting classes.

Dr. Khan, who has treated babies at CHKD’s NICU since 1988, said the unit is a tribute not just to the advances in care of the region’s smallest babies, but also to the commitment of the community.

“We certainly wouldn’t be able to have this beautiful state-of-the-art NICU without a lot of commitment from the hospital and the people in the community who have supported the hospital over the years,” says Khan. “Someone has to watch out for the children, and in Hampton Roads, it’s CHKD.”