Team at Piedmont Fayette’s NICU helping the future of the county grow up healthy

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Physicians with Piedmont Fayette Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Dr. Dawn Embers, MD, and Dr. Roderick Robinson, MD, Medical Director of Neonatal and Pediatric Services. help parents through their most stressful times. Here, the pose with artwork donated by The Joseph Sams School, just one community organization that has embraced the work of the NICU. (Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)

A month focused on history fittingly ends with a look towards the future. Fayette families in one of their greatest moments of need turn to the Piedmont Fayette Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and a loving staff led by Dr. Roderick Robinson, MD, Medical Director of Neonatal and Pediatric Services, and Dr. Dawn Embers, MD.
Childbirth comes with many challenges and the NICU steps in when those challenges are greatest. Since it opened in 2006, the NICU, which treats roughly 9 to 10 percent of babies born at Piedmont Fayette, has given the extra attention necessary to full-term babies that may have infections, heart disease, or other issues, or to premature babies in need of a great amount of care.
Robinson and Embers took different routes to the NICU, but both love their work. Robinson, who has been with Piedmont Fayette’s unit since it opened, had initially planned to become an OB-GYN or work in the ER, but he started working in a NICU while he was in medical school.
“I liked it,” Robinson said. “It was more exciting than office pediatrics.” Robinson added that training under Sheldon Korones, one of the true pioneers of neonatology, helped.
Embers, who has been with Piedmont Fayette since 2013, knew all along she wanted that career route.
“When I got into medicine, I knew I wanted to be in neonatology. That’s because I had a cousin who was a NICU grad,” Embers said. “Seeing that development, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Robinson and Embers are among the leaders of a team helping families get through tough times.
“It’s really a team approach. It’s not like we, the physicians, are doing all these things. The nurses are the ones at the bedside. They’re doing a lot of the groundwork,” said Robinson. “We’re the facilitators, the quarterback if you will. It takes a whole team, not just one person with the ball in their hand. That’s the big thing around here.”
It wouldn’t work at all without making the families part of the care team.
“A big chunk is being like a social worker, pastor, friend, physician to the parents,” said Embers. “A lot of our time is spent talking to the parents and holding their hands trying to guide them through the process of being in the NICU.”
The process is especially trying for parents of pre-term babies. They are placed in isolettes for warmth and safety, but that also means the parents are separated from them much of the day. During what is called Kangaroo Care time, the parents get to hold the baby against their chest, skin-to-skin. The physical contact helps stimulate bonding.
“Usually for premature babies, that bonding aspect is missed,” said Embers, noting that parents are also included in changing diapers, taking temperatures, and other routines. “We want them to be like the other nurse so that once it’s time to go home, they’re not afraid. They’ve already been doing the care the whole time the baby has been there, so they’re already used to their new normal routine.”
The physicians look at their work just like anyone else in the hospital.
“People look at us as being different or special, but we do the same thing as anybody else, it’s just we have a baby involved,” said Robinson.
Still, it takes a special individual to work in the NICU. You need a big heart and thick skin.
“As a pediatric resident this is probably the scariest place you can work,” Robinson said of working up through the medical field into the NICU. “If you’re like us and you gravitate to doing us, you’re pretty much the oddball. A lot of people don’t want to do it. They’re afraid of it. You’re doing the one thing that no one else wants to do.”
Both Robinson and Embers know that there is so much reward in working there, though.
“There are many more highs than lows. People think it’s sad, and it’s not sad the way people think,” said Robinson, noting that losing babies is rare.
The babies become like family and it is a celebration when they get to go home with their families. When you’re family, you have reunions, and the NICU is no different. They host pre-term reunions that are a favorite.
“Babies that have come here, been taken care of, and gone home are invited back,” said Robinson. “It gives you an opportunity to see how they’ve grown, see how they’re doing. The parents are a lot happier at that point. It makes a big difference.”
In the instances where they cannot save the baby, the members of the NICU are still prepared to help. They have training in bereavement services and work with groups like Rachel’s Gift that provide memory baskets and photos among other things.
“Even though we can’t save every baby, we can make that time memorable and a little better experience,” said Embers, who had recently reconnected with a mother who had lost one of her twins some time back. “For a horrible time in her life, she felt that she was in the best place possible. Even with the bad times, just being able to go through it with the family is rewarding.”
Just as the doctors and nurses of the NICU care for the community, the community has embraced them as well. The people of Fayette County helped make the hospital and the unit happen, and they keep supporting it through monetary and other donations.
Another expansion was made possible in 2014 when the Kiwanis Club of Fayette County donated $100,000 to help bring in ten new beds for pre-term babies.
Members of the NICU, the Family Care Center, and the staff of the hospital also participate in events with the March of Dimes. In 2015, they were one of the top five teams at the walk in Fayette County. They will be participating in this year’s walk on April 16 at Picnic Park in Peachtree City. The mission of the March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.
“I say this all the time, the community wanted this to happen,” said Robinson. “As much I would like to believe it’s just because we do such good things, it’s because the people of the community wanted this to happen. It’s why we’ve been able to grow so rapidly in the last nine years.”
If you look on the walls of the NICU, you can see one community touch. The Joseph Sams School, which counts a number of NICU grads among its students, donated artwork to brighten up the hallways.
The medical field, particularly neonatology is not for the weak, but, if you have the heart for it, it is a truly special career path. Robinson and Embers know they had to work nonstop to get where they are, and that’s what any future doctor has to do. The world always needs more compassionate care.
“If you want to get into this field, the most important thing is to reach out to someone who does it and shadow them,” advised Embers. “Immerse yourself in the healthcare experience and be sure that’s what you’re really interested in.”
Above all, believe in yourself.
“A lot of us were not always patted on the back and told we were fabulous,” said Robinson. “For a young person, I would tell them, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. Stay the course and persevere.”

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Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.


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