“Please, no tip. Instead, I’d appreciate a hug from the man who helped save my life,” said the Uber driver to Dr. Sudeep Kukreja following a ride to the airport. A leading expert in neonatology and the associate medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at CHOC Children’s Hospital, Dr. Kukreja has earned numerous accolades over his decades-long medical career, including 26 years at CHOC. But it’s moments like the one he shared with his former patient during that chance encounter on his way out of town that inspire him to push the limits of what is possible for the hospital’s tiniest and most fragile patients — and their loving families.
“I know how difficult it is for parents to come to terms with having their newborn in the hospital and not at home. That’s one of the reasons we partner with families on the care we provide, and work hard to offer as many opportunities as possible for them to bond with their newborn, including kangaroo care,” explains Dr. Kukreja.
Kangaroo care is the practice of giving a sick or premature baby skin-to-skin contact, usually against a parent’s chest. Studies show that this kind of bonding has many health benefits for babies, including assisting in maintaining body warmth, higher blood oxygen levels, improved sleep, improved breastfeeding and improved weight gain. It’s also good for mom and dad, helping promote bonding and parenting confidence.
Dr. Kukreja and his colleagues understand the fear and worry parents can experience, especially when they first arrive at the NICU. That’s why they encourage parents to participate immediately in the care of their newborn and to ask questions – lots of them. Daily medical rounds and updates, as well as periodic family conferences are ways parents can connect with the care team and provide candid feedback.
“We have a very experienced and skilled NICU team, a program recognized by US News & World Report, and some of the best outcomes in the nation. That said, no one knows a child better than mom and dad,” explains Dr. Kukreja. “And as much as we are honored to care for our patients in our NICU, the best reward is sending them home with their families.”