Jennifer and Derek Klawitter are proud parents to two little girls. Jennifer says she had a completely normal pregnancy with her first daughter, Greta. However, her second pregnancy with daughter Klara wasn't.
"Klara was born at 26 weeks and weighed just 1 pound and 0.3 ounces," Jennifer said.
Baby Klara was so small her parents could fit their wedding bands around her legs. She ended up spending 151 days in the NICU.
"We really felt at peace leaving her in the NICU because of the staff and the care she was receiving there," Jennifer said.
The Klawitters say the NICU staff became their family. Still, the experience wasn't easy.
Jennifer got sick and spent time in the ICU after giving birth. Klara needed lots of help and treatments to help her grow. They also had to travel from Brandon to Sanford in Sioux Falls. yet, there was one thing that kept the family encouraged during the difficult times.
"When they talked about, 'We are going to try this', they always related it back to research that somebody had seen, that somebody had done. We've had as good of an outcome as we have had because of the NICU and how progressive they were and because of their research," Jennifer said.
Today, 2-year old Klara is healthy and growing
The Klawitters say they are excited about a new program at Sanford to help future NICU families. Sanford was recently chosen as one of 15 sites in the country to be a member of the National Institute's of Health's Neonatal Research Network.
"The focus of the NRN is to improve, not only their short term survival and their complications in the NICU, but also to make sure their development later on in life is not affected by the treatments that we do," Dr. Michelle Baack said.
Baack says most of the studies are for babies born at less than 28 weeks. She adds there will be as many as 15 studies taking place at the same time in the NICU.
"They would receive special testing that would help identify issues if they had them that helps them get those services or care earlier," Baack said.
Sanford will work alongside the University of Iowa as part of the network in this area.
Baack says premature babies are at a really high risk for chronic lung disease. She says one study they already know of will look into ways to help prevent lung disease to help with their survival but also to prevent the possibility of lung disease for those babies later on in life.
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For families with a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the experience can be filled with uncertainty That's why research plays such an important role in finding the best ways to help premature babies survive.