Children's Emergency Department is now located in Children's Tower: 1001 E. Marshall Street.

Learn more
View alerts close
Celebrating 10 years of the Neonatal Continuing Care Program
April 11, 2024
CHoR NICU graduates George and Ada

    NICU and NCCP grads George and Ada are unstoppable after care at CHoR

    George Odikadze’s mom, Salome, experienced complications throughout her pregnancy. Her doctors worked hard to help her make it as long as possible before delivering, giving her baby the best chance of survival. In January 2021, little George was born four months early and weighing just shy of two pounds. Eight months later, Ada Weissberger was born right on cue, but stopped breathing and turned blue a couple hours after birth.

    Specialized medical attention in the Level 4 NICU at CHoR

    George spent his first 120 days in the NICU. His mom would drop his two older brothers off at school, then spend the rest of the day by her baby’s side.

    “It was a very long 4-5 months with a lot going on – allergies, sicknesses, x-rays, hernia repairs, eye surgery,” said Salome. “I miss the nurses quite honestly! The nurses and doctors were amazing. They gave us all their love and attention.”

    Our neonatologists provided expert care to George, collaborating with other pediatric specialists for the specific conditions he faced – from a hole in his heart, to two bouts of necrotizing enterocolitis (a serious inflammation of intestinal tissue), pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs), bilateral hernias and retinopathy of prematurity which can lead to vision loss.

    The neonatology team got Ada breathing again and whisked her to the NICU for hypothermia protocol to protect against brain damage. Her temperature was dropped to about 92 degrees for three days, then slowly brought back up to normal. She stayed in the NICU for 10 days.

    “The moment Ada stopped breathing was probably the scariest of my life, but it was reassuring to see that immediate, highly coordinated, professional action from the team,” said Ada’s mom, Kelly. “Within a minute, there were a dozen providers in our room working on Ada, and one of them saw me crying and came to my bedside to calmly narrate what was happening. The next 10 days were not fun, but the providers made it as comfortable as possible.”

    Care beyond the NICU – Graduating to the Neonatal Continuing Care Program

    CHoR NICU grad George in a Harry Potter sweatshirtBabies who spend time in the NICU often experience health and development concerns. That’s because the CHoR NICU is a designated level IV regional perinatal center that cares for the sickest infants in the state of Virginia. With many of the children airlifted to the NICU or transported from other NICUs, there is greater risk of experiencing these health and developmental concerns. Dr. Karen Hendricks-Muñoz, chief of the Division of Neonatal Medicine, developed the Neonatal Continuing Care Program shortly after she arrived at CHoR 10 years ago to address these concerns and maximize the health and development of NICU graduates.

    “Illnesses that occur during the developmental periods of growth and development influence our cognitive and neurodevelopmental pathways,” said Dr. Hendricks-Muñoz. “Children like George who developed outside of the womb beginning at 24 weeks did not have the best environment for development so are in need of special care to get them on track. Ada was born at term gestation but suffered severe organ insult during the birthing period. That injury influences all organs, including brain development. Through the NCCP we were able to provide her with supports for advancement to her full potential.”

    Programs like the NCCP are expected standards of care for centers that provide neonatal intensive care and help families navigate additional services that babies need to thrive. In addition to babies receiving ongoing specialized care unique to them, parents learn about their little ones’ development and receive recommendations and collaborative plans to address cognitive and neuromuscular needs at home. At CHoR, research has identified that these programs improve not only infant outcomes but enhance parent understanding of their children’s needs, increasing parent psychosocial resilience and wellbeing in caring for their children.

    With how early George was born, there was a chance he wouldn’t be able to walk, talk or even breathe on his own. Following his care in the NICU, his neonatology team recommended he participate in the NCCP. George was enrolled in early intervention services and worked with a physical therapist to help him develop neck strength initially, then slowly progress to rolling over, sitting up, standing and other physical milestones. His big brothers helped by playing with him at home too.

    George passed his final evaluation and finished in the NCCP right before he turned 2. He completed speech therapy several months later.

    Ada also was followed by the NCCP for two years after birth, initially by Zoom during the pandemic. The team evaluated her development at regular intervals and checked in on her family’s wellbeing.

    “Her last evaluation was in person and that was really nice. I learned a lot about infant and toddler development from the pediatric physical therapist, Dr. Shaaron Brown, who did her final assessment,” added Kelly. “Ada's primary care pediatrician Dr. Kyle Trowbridge has been an incredible support. He patiently listens to our concerns, shares advice from his perspective as both a dad and a physician and helps us consider how our NICU experience has shaped our perceptions of Ada's health and health care going forward.”

    Life after the Neonatal Continuing Care Program – George and Ada take on the world

    CHoR NICU graduate Ada in a flowered dressGeorge started preschool last June, and he and his family just celebrated his third birthday. He’s bilingual, speaking both English and his mother’s native language of Georgian. He counts, knows songs, is learning his ABCs and started Soccer Shots earlier this month.

    “He’s very happy and energetic. He’s the craziest kid in his class,” laughed his mom. “He was delayed until he was about 2.5 years old, then he picked everything up quickly.”

    George loves Hot Wheels, spending time with his brothers, being outside, swimming and having his friend over to play. And he likes to eat – food makes him happy! He wears glasses to help the vision in his left eye and checks in with his ENT once a year to make sure his vocal cords are continuing to heal properly after intubation in the NICU.

    Smiley, outgoing, creative, resilient and talkative Ada doesn’t have any ongoing issues related to her birth or time in the NICU. She too adores her big brother, as well as music (especially Taylor Swift), dancing, soccer, swimming, climbing, slides (the taller, the better), playing in the sand, blocks, drawing, playdough, Sesame Street and taking her dolls for walks in the stroller.

    Monumental milestones in neonatal care and follow-up at CHoR

    As the CHoR NICU celebrates 50 years of expert medical care for premature and critically ill newborns, the NCCP marks a decade of follow-up care and support for babies and families. Developed with the goal to support all NICU graduates in the region as well as train the next generation of neonatologists, over the past 10 years more than 2,000 children have benefitted from the NCCP, including graduates of both the CHoR NICU and other NICUs throughout the state. Several trainees have gone on to other NICUs, providing neurodevelopmental follow-up care for their NICU graduates.

    Today, the CHoR NCCP program, led by neonatologist Dr. Tazuddin Mohammad, provides standardized testing and care recommendations through our specially trained infant physical therapists Drs. Shaaron Brown and Jennifer Pulisic, as well as psychological counseling with NICU psychologist Dr. Allison Baylor-Williams. Care is integrated with early intervention services and other pediatric subspecialists as needed to meet each participant’s growth and development goals.

    “Any child in Virginia who has had to receive care in a NICU is eligible for these services to help them reach their full potential. From its initial half-day program, NCCP has grown in response to the needs of all NICU graduates in our region. We are so happy that we can guide them and their families along the way to a healthier future,” added Dr. Hendricks-Muñoz.

    Discover more about why our neonatology program is ranked among the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

    Subscribe to our blog

    Sign Up