Twenty-nine-year-old Carrie Durrett's baby arrived six weeks premature. He was born with unanticipated problems in his heart and lungs. "One minute he's doing good, next minute we're getting setbacks," says Carrie.
He remains under the watchful eyes of nurses, who will use a mix of intuition and equipment to monitor his condition. "Babies can't tell us when they're feeling good or when they're getting sick," says Terese Verklan, R.N., Ph.D.
But there's a need for better tools and tests. So a team at the University of Houston and U.T. Health Science Center is using a device called squid. "It allows you to measure small magnetic fields produced by a fetal heart," says Audrius Brazdeikis, Ph.D.
And by a newborn heart. They hope it will give neonatal nurses and doctors a more individualized and finer-tuned measure of how a baby's doing beyond a traditional heart monitor. "A sick baby can have a heart rate of 150 and a healthy baby can have a heart rate of 150," says Dr. Verklan. "It gives you a much finer measurement of how that baby's really doing."
It would allow doctors to do things like wean medication sooner and react quicker to potential problems. And in pregnant moms, doctors would use it along with the traditional ultrasound to find any potential problems or signs of stress in a fetus. "Our technology is complimentary to ultrasound, allows you to obtain information that is not available by the ultrasound techniques," says Dr. Brazdeikis.
It's a device that might have alerted doctors to this baby's condition before his birth. For now, his six brothers at home are anxiously awaiting the end of his hospital stay. "They're all looking forward to seeing him, so we're ready to go," says Carrie.
Like original ultrasound devices, the "squid" device is currently large and stationary. These days, ultrasound devices are often handheld so researchers hope to see "squid" become portable, too.