Amanda's Story

In the 27 years of its existence, the NBICU has graduated 10,000 babies. The vast majority of these graduates go on to lead active, productive lives. Here is Amanda's story as told in the October 1993 issue of Healthy & Wise, when she was six years old and wanted to be a rock star.

Amanda
Less than a box of Whitman's chocolates. Less than Webster's dictionary—the abridged version. Less than a laptop computer.

Less than three pounds. That's how much Amanda Athanasiou weighed when she was born at Bridgeport Hospital. Nancy Athanasiou knew, from her fourth month of pregnancy, that all was not going well. The baby was not gaining weight normally, and there was not enough amniotic fluid in the womb. In her seventh month, Nancy needed a cesarean section to keep Amanda from strangling on the umbilical cord in her tight quarters.

After her birth, tiny Amanda went to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. At first, she did well. But then she developed meningitis — infection of the membranes around the brain. For 24 hours she was a very sick baby. And it was six weeks before should could go home to Seymour.

When your baby's entire life has depended on constant monitoring, taking her home can be very scary. But at Bridgeport Hospital we don't just wave good-bye to the sickest "graduates" of the NBICU. Instead, we follow up with regular developmental evaluations. The advantage: the earlier a problem is caught, the easier it is to treat.

Dr. Christine Butler is in charge of the Follow-Up program. "We see the children at 6, 12, 18, and 27 months corrected ages," she says. (If a child is born two months early, when her chronological age is 8 months, her corrected age is 6 months.)

At each visit, Dr. Butler spends more than two hours evaluating development. Does the 6-month-old sit alone?…put her toes in her mouth?…laugh out loud?…reach for her mother?…react to sounds?…cry when a toy is taken away?

"Usually I can assure the parents that their child is doing well," says Dr. Butler. But if there is cause for concern, she can refer the child to specialists. Familiar with area rehabilitative programs, she matches the service to the unique needs of the child she is evaluating.

Amanda progressed extremely well. But just to be sure, at six months, Dr. Butler referred her to pediatric neurologist S.K. Nallainathan, MD, for testing, because hearing problems often surface in children who have had meningitis. Happily, the tests indicated no hearing loss.

That didn't mean there were no worries. In fact, there was a big one, detected while Amanda was still in the NBICU: an atrial septal defect — a hole between the two upper chambers of her heart, causing a murmur.

It takes a specialist with special equipment to find a hole in the heart of a three-pound baby. Luckily for Amanda, Bridgeport Hospital has such a specialist on staff. Kieve Berkwits, MD, a board-certified pediatric cardiologist, analyzed Amanda's heart function as only a doctor familiar with dime-sized hearts can do. He has followed Amanda's progress since birth. His most recent examination revealed that the hole is so small, it may never require treatment. However, he will continue to monitor her.

Pediatric Cardiology is only one of the pediatric specialties available in the region. They include Developmental Pediatrics, Allergy, Adolescent Medicine, general pediatric surgery, Critical Care, Endocrinology (glands), Gastroenterology (digestion), Nephrology (kidneys), Neurology, Neonatology, Orthopedic Surgery, Pulmonology, Urology, and Psychiatry.

Important as specialists are, it's also crucial for children to have a primary care doctor, as Amanda's Stratford-based pediatrician, James Ralabate, MD, points out. "A primary care doctor such as a pediatrician can diagnose and treat the majority of illnesses," he explains, "and refer the patient to subspecialists as needed, acting as 'quarterback.'"

And just how is Amanda progressing? At 6 1/2 years — when most children are still learning to write their names, and struggling to remember which way the "S" curves — Amanda Athanasiou labels her drawings with a sophisticated designer alphabet of "bubble letters." She likes to read and draw; she crushes her mother at Pictionary, and enjoys golfing with her father, Stephen. In the future, Amanda intends to lead her own band, which she plans to call "Foxes in Heaven."

She already plays a way-cool air guitar.