If the University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital has anything to do with it, its new social media campaign will do for premature babies what the Ice Bucket Challenge did for ALS in 2014.
Two of the smallest surviving babies in the world are alive today because of the care they received at the Mobile hospital’s Hollis J. Wiseman Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
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Doctors and nurses working behind the scenes at hospital’s NICU unit could tell miraculous stories of survival every day. Babies as young as 22 weeks’ gestation, which just a few decades ago might not have had any hope, are regularly given a chance at life.
The unit admits some 1,000 babies per year. Since it is the only Level III NICU in the region between Mobile and Birmingham, 20 percent of those children are transported from outside the region.
Dr. Om Prakash Jha, a neonatologist who has worked at Children’s and Women’s since September of 2015, recently had an idea that has turned into a fundraising effort to help buy much-needed new equipment to transport babies to the hospital, and to keep them as comfortable as possible once they make it to the NICU.
One weekend, he noticed a couple of nurses had their hair pulled up in a “Trolls”-style hairdo. Though they’d done it for fun, to entertain their patients, they made him think much deeper thoughts.
“The work they’re doing is against nature’s default,” he explained. “When babies are born three to four months early, the default is that they will not make it. In ancient cultures, the kids would be left on the ground to pass away. Early neonatologists used the analogy of ‘raising them up,’ from the ground.”
Just as the premature babies are defying death, with their organ systems not completely formed, the nurses’ hairstyles were defying the force of gravity. What better way to increase awareness of their plight, Dr. Jha thought, than by sharing photos of the staff with their hair “raised up” on social media?
With the help of a focus group of nurses who had fundraising experience, Dr. Jha created the Hair-Raising Challenge on Facebook. The idea is for people to share photos of themselves with the silly hairstyle, then tag three others along with sharing the website where donations can be made to the hospital’s fundraising effort.