Mighty Blog

Caring for the tiniest babies: The village at Children’s Minnesota that gets NICU babies home

Dr. George in the NICU checking on a babyNote: All photos were taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Thomas George, system medical director for neonatology at Children’s Minnesota, would rather talk about the talents of the entire neonatal team and other experts at Children’s Minnesota than himself.

And in fact, the neonatal team at Children’s Minnesota, led by Dr. George, makes amazing things happen every day. We have 500+ neonatal care experts who are supported by the largest network of pediatric specialists in the Upper Midwest.

Evolution of neonatology

As a neonatologist for the last 24 years, Dr. George has seen a tremendous evolution in the field.

“We’ve always been caring for babies born at the edge of survival,” he said describing the work of the neonatal team. “But that edge has gradually moved even further down in gestational age.”

At the beginning of Dr. George’s career, babies could be cared for successfully at 24 weeks (full term is 40 weeks). Now he and his team care for babies at 22 weeks, an age when babies now have a chance at surviving. While that might not sound like a big difference, every week a fetus is developing in the womb is critical. Today, there is a potential to save babies that might not have had the chance to survive only a few years ago, giving more families hope.

What makes Children’s Minnesota special?

When Dr. George joined Children’s Minnesota in 2018, he was excited to join the program as it was becoming one unified and integrated program across our locations. Children’s Minnesota’s neonatology team works across all our sites – St. Paul, Minneapolis and Coon Rapids – and collaborates with hospitals across the region.

Music therapist plays music for a baby in the NICU

This unified approach means that babies and families at any Children’s Minnesota neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) receive comprehensive care with the support of child life specialists, dietitians, music therapists, respiratory therapists, social workers, spiritual counselors and more. Babies also have the support of the full range of Children’s Minnesota pediatric sub-specialties, including cardiology, neurology, neurosurgery, general surgery, ear, nose and throat (ENT) and more.

“There is not a baby that we cannot care for. There is not a condition in a newborn baby that we, as a team, cannot treat,” said Dr. George, describing what makes Children’s Minnesota special. That includes conditions diagnosed before babies are born, through the Midwest Fetal Care Center, a collaboration between Allina Health and Children’s Minnesota.

Journey as a neonatologist

As a second-year pediatric resident, Dr. George knew he wanted to be a neonatologist when he rotated through the NICU.

“I loved the fact that you have to think about these babies from head to toe. What is it going to take to get that baby as a whole better? Sometimes moment to moment, and certainly day to day, week to week, sometimes month to month,” Dr. George describes. “I love that we care for babies in their entirety, thinking about so many aspects of their care including their nutrition, their breathing, their heart, their growth and their development. It’s also not just caring for the babies, we care for the whole family.”

Dr. George understands that families are often in the midst of one of the most traumatic situations of their lives when they receive a diagnosis during pregnancy, deliver early or something unexpected happens to bring them to the NICU. Their journey draws upon the love of family, friends and a dedicated team with one goal in mind – treating babies until they’re healthy and back home.

“For all of us on the neonatal team, that joy of having the family walk out of the unit with their baby is pretty indescribable,” Dr. George said. “It’s not lost on any of us that it’s that village that gets that baby home.”

About the Children’s Minnesota neonatal team

In the NICUs and neonatology programs of Children’s Minnesota, amazing things happen. Because we are built for it.

Our neonatal team of nearly 500 doctors, surgeons and pediatric specialists is the largest in Minnesota — and one of the largest in the country. With nearly 200 neonatal beds in our hospitals and special care nurseries, we care for nearly 3,000 newborns every year. Our NICUs are located in St. Paul, Minneapolis and Coon Rapids (The Mother Baby Center at Mercy Hospital).