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Brain models help new nurses, parents understand preemie development in NICU at St. Luke’s Hospital

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 8:33 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -3D brain models are helping parents and nurses in the NICU at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids better understand baby development. Shelley Rocca has been a nurse in the NICU at St. Luke’s for nearly 23 years, she created the true-to-size models in the hospital’s generate lab.

“I’m a visual more hands-on person,” Rocca told us.

She made four brains at 25, 30, 35, and 40 weeks gestation.

“The thing that obviously is the most striking is the definition of each of the brains and how it progresses,” Rocca pointed out.

The models have been a benefit to newer nurses like McKenna Welter.

“Seeing them in person really made it all click for me, really how underdeveloped those brains are,” Welter said.

The models have helped bring families comfort and understanding when they have a child in the NICU, a time that can be particularly stressful.

Briana Hayward had her son Emmerson just before 29 weeks.

“It was just kind of a reassurance too that like this is where his brain is now and this is where it’s going to get to,” Hayward explained.

Emmerson is home now but spent 80 days in the NICU between hospitals.

“They would tell us these things but when you actually see the visual it was like okay, that makes sense as to why he’s not able to eat by himself yet and still has a feeding tube, you know he’s learning how to do that,” Hayward told us.

“It’s pretty common that we would have feeding struggles and things like that around 34, 35 weeks and it can be you know discouraging for families. But then if you show them the brain and explain you know hey the brain at 35 weeks is still only 2/3′s the size it’s going to be at 40 weeks,” Rocca said.

Welter told us having the models have helped her feel more confident talking to parents.

“Now that we have these kinds of clear models to kind of show them,” she explained.

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