Nitric oxide to the rescue–again–with premature infants

Nearly one in ten premature babies born in the Scranton PA area have a defective oxygen-delivery mechanism, according to a local online news source. The writer says that inhaling nitric oxide gas can make such babies better, faster, and avoid “the alternative – a surgical procedure that opens the jugular vein to use a heart-lung machine.” Doctors say more babies will survive this type of problem without long-term effects as NO gas relaxes certain lung cells, allowing them to help get oxygen into the bloodstream.

As a mother, I am always excited about the idea of finding treatment approaches that help the child with as little trauma as possible. And the fact that NO gives premature infants a better chance of avoiding developmental problems is good news–(see here), though clearly it’s not without risks and must be used judiciously with babies who meet certain criteria (and here).

A reader has suggested that the two treatments are not equivalent. (See comments to this entry.) The original story stated that this use of NO would give some parents the choice to save their premature babies from having to endure ventilator surgery. Even if it turns out not to be as ground-breaking as it seemed, still we’re heading in the right direction anytime we work on replacing surgery with non-invasive approaches.

Aside: Hospitals are beginning to realize that giving close attention to parents during the birth process can create an emotional bond that will tend to make the family choose that hospital for a lifetime of services.