LA MIRADA — Dallas Bouchard was born 10 weeks prematurely. He weighed the same as a phone book and was just a shade longer than an envelope when delivered at the Medical Center of La Mirada on Sept. 22.
Because of his size and premature birth, the physicians and nurses who teamed to deliver Dallas feared infections might threaten his tiny organs. As a precaution, babies like Dallas born at La Mirada were routinely separated within minutes of birth from their mothers and transferred to bigger regional medical facilities equipped to care and monitor undersized or critically-ill newborns.
But Dallas was never flown by helicopter to Memorial Medical Center of Long Beach or UCI Medical Center in Santa Ana, two of the state's best at treating critical newborns.
He never left the La Mirada hospital or his mother because of a new program that cares for all but the sickest newborns at the facility.
A "special care nursery" opened at La Mirada in early September and Dallas was its first "graduate."
The Bouchard baby spent six weeks in the nursery before making the three-block trip home last week with his parents to meet his five brothers and sisters.
Born just a gram over three pounds--about half the weight of a normal baby--Dallas would have been transferred to Long Beach Memorial the night he was born, said obstetrician Mahpara Razi, who delivered Dallas. Until the new nursery opened, Razi and other physicians say La Mirada lacked the monitoring tools, special incubators and trained staff needed to care for premature babies as they build immunities and weight in the first weeks of life.
While most healthy babies are released from the hospital within five days of birth, premature or sick babies are often kept weeks because of susceptibility to disease and sudden complications.
If Dallas had gone to Long Beach Memorial, Razi said the so-called "bonding process" between the baby and parents--the formation of emotional ties that psychologists say occurs with cuddling, observing and talking to the newborn in the first hours and days following birth--would have been disrupted.
Dennis Gaschen, communications director at the La Mirada hospital, smiled and put it this way: "There was concern babies were growing more attached to the helicopters than their mothers."
Dallas' parents admit traveling to Long Beach to be near him would have been a hardship.
Released from the La Mirada hospital three days after delivery, Kim Bouchard, 30, returned to the medical center daily, bringing little stuffed animals or music boxes that nurses placed in her son's incubator, where his body temperature, food and oxygen were regulated. Her husband, Don, a plant manager at a steel fabrication company in Santa Fe Springs, was able to visit and hold his son during his lunch hour and after work because his office is only minutes from the hospital.
Cleared to Go Home
"We would never have been able to see him as much if he had been 22 miles down the freeway in Long Beach," said Don Bouchard, cradling Dallas the day after the infant was cleared to go home. In 45 days at the hospital, Dallas gained 1 1/2 pounds.
"What with the other children and work, it would have been near impossible to see him more than a couple times a week," he said. "This way, he's been with us every day--a part of our family in a real way. His brothers and sisters were able to see him more often."
While most area hospitals, like La Mirada, offer traditional maternity services--labor, delivery and nursery care for healthy, full-term babies--the vast majority leave the handling of premature newborns or those considered "high-risk" because of genetic or developmental complications discovered during pregnancy to a handful of specially-equipped and staffed institutions like Long Beach Memorial or UCI Medical Center.
But Edward Fox wanted to change that when he became executive director of the 141-bed La Mirada hospital in October, 1984.
There was no reason, the hospital administrator said, that relatively healthy, premature babies who simply need extra attention and a longer hospital stay could not remain where they were born, close to loving parents and family physicians. Fox insisted that separating infants, like Dallas, from their mothers was unnecessary. He also saw a chance to give the hospital a competitive edge over other area medical centers in an era of deregulated health care.
Special Care Nursery
So Fox approached doctors at the University of California, Irvine, Medical Center in Santa Ana about establishing an intermediate or special care nursery at his hospital, which is undergoing a $15-million expansion started soon after being purchased two years ago by a San Fernando Valley-based company, Nu Med Hospitals.
An agreement between the La Mirada hospital and UCI on the nursery was reached earlier this year. Both sides apparently benefited.