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Newborn intensive care unit readies for rebirth

Major Vargas simulates checking a newborn’s vitals in one of the NICU’s state-of-the-art Versalets, using a training mannequin.  The Versalet can serve as an isolet or a baby warmer.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Steve Pivnick)

Major Vargas simulates checking a newborn’s vitals in one of the NICU’s state-of-the-art Versalets, using a training mannequin. The Versalet can serve as an isolet or a baby warmer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Steve Pivnick)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Keesler Medical Center's Newborn Intensive Care Unit reopens July 1 to provide state-of-the-art care for critically-ill newborns.

The unit hasn't been available since Hurricane Katrina slammed Keesler Aug. 29, 2005.
Maj. (Dr.) Alfonso Vargas, 81st Medical Operations Squadron neonatologist and interim NICU medical director, arrived in February to help organize and ready the facility. The unit, located near the new family birthing center, undergoes renovations over the next two months.
 
Major Vargas and Maj. Muriel Gatlin, NICU element leader, have been busy gearing up the NICU for its July 1 opening. They have been inspecting equipment, training personnel, restocking supplies and updating the unit's operating instructions. Their goal is to complement the family birthing center, providing well-rounded care to both mothers and their infants.
 
"Families that make the decision to have their babies at Keesler should rest assured that we have excellent medical facilities and highly-qualified medical professionals available to take care of their newborns if higher levels of care are needed," Major Vargas said.
 
The NICU opens with two intensive-care beds, with plans to expand to a seven-bed capacity as manning allows and patient demand increases. A second neonatologist, Maj. (Dr.) Susan Dotzler, joins the team in June.
 
"Everybody involved in the unit's reopening is very excited and eager to begin serving our community and to begin providing specialized care to our acutely-ill newborns," Major Vargas said.