New tiny baby unit brings additional expertise to Norton Children’s NICU care

A new unit dedicated to Norton Children’s smallest patients puts parents at ease. Meet twin boys who are among its first patients.

Becoming a first-time parent can be nerve-wracking, even more so when that day comes much sooner than expected.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” said Austin Myers.

Austin’s identical twin sons, Tate and Tripp Myers, were born premature at 26 weeks, six days. Each weighed under 2 pounds.

“When they come out and they’re 1 pound, 11 ounces, you don’t really know what they need,” Austin said. “But at Norton Children’s tiny baby unit, they know exactly what they need to be doing, and it’s great.”

The tiny baby unit (TBU), which opened in April, is a dedicated section of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Norton Children’s Hospital. The new unit is specifically for babies who weigh 2.75 pounds or less, which is typically found with babies born at 28 weeks or earlier.

“The concept of the tiny baby unit originated from the research that I did several years ago about taking a large NICU such as ours at 101 beds and making it feel smaller,” said Mia Nellums, nurse manager of the Norton Children’s Hospital NICU. “For our staff, our providers and our families — because the sheer size alone can be overwhelming.”

From that research, Mia was inspired to start the TBU within the NICU. The specialized unit is staffed by nurses who have gone through additional education and training.

“The care for patients of that size is so specialized; this really provides the additional expertise that is needed for that patient population,” Mia said. “The nurses trained for the TBU care for those babies every day. This allows families to get to know the nurses, and the nurses get to know the babies and learn what is normal for that baby. That familiarity can help nurses spot subtle changes or abnormalities more quickly than someone who comes in and is not as familiar with that baby.”

The core group of highly trained staff members ultimately provide an additional comfort for parents, especially for the Myers family of Paducah, Kentucky. Austin has to leave for days at a time to work, while his wife, Jillian, stays in Louisville with Tate and Tripp.

“Everybody asks, ‘Are you going to transfer them back home if you can?’ I don’t see a point in it. They’re getting the best care they can possibly get here,” Austin said. “So why take them away from it? It’s a three-hour drive, but it’s worth it.”

According to Mia, in 2023 Kentucky’s premature birth rate was about 12%. Roughly 4% of those babies would qualify for the TBU.

“When they’re born that premature, everything is there but not completely developed,” Mia said. “Their heads are premature. Their stomachs are premature; their lungs are premature — so we have to support them as they grow. That’s what’s so important. That is why these patients are placed in incubators and put on a ventilators, and given so many extra supports.”’

The TBU has 15 beds, and in its first month the new unit saw about 30 patients, Tate and Tripp being some of the first. Through Norton Children’s care, they’ve continued to grow and develop, and are getting closer to going home.

“The tiny baby unit is a blessing for anyone in that type of situation. The staff is phenomenal at what they do,” Austin said. “They’re doing exactly what they need to do to make Tate and Tripp strong, independent babies so we will be able to take them home — and that is amazing. We are so thankful for that. And the fact that we’re close enough to be here to be able to have them was just a blessing.”

A blessing not just for the Myers family, but for all families of tiny babies who will be able to access this specialized care in the future.

“Everybody in this unit is dedicated to this. It took a team of providers, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and nutritionists working together to bring this vision to reality, and I’m super proud of where we are today,” Mia said. “It’s going to be tremendous for the babies and their families. And that’s the focus.” Norton Children’s tiny baby unit is part of the “Just Imagine” campaign, a visionary journey that will help bring better health to children throughout Kentucky, Southern Indiana and beyond. Just imagine what your help can do.