MID-CITY — Asher Cox has a knack for timing.
He was born 10 weeks early but just in time for this year’s flu season, meaning that anyone under the age of 14, including his 3-year-old sister Amber, couldn’t visit him at the UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.
Back in the old days, even though the Cox’s live close to the hospital in Santa Monica, it would have meant three months for Amber without much more than a photograph of her new baby brother.
But a pilot program, which will roll out as an option for all patients on Jan. 1, brought the two face to face.
Their mother, Helen Cox, made a call to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and a nurse booted up an iPad video application that allowed the brother and sister to see each other for the first time.
“I would love to say she sat for 30 minutes and gazed at him, but she’s 3,” Cox said, laughing. “So she kind of looked at him. She showed interest. I managed to get like three pictures, which broke my heart, and then she was kind of like, ‘eh, OK. I’m off to playing.’ But it was great to have that reaction from her.”
“I See U Baby,” the iPad video program, sounds like the kind of clever idea that should be easy to employ. Patients ask all the time if they’re allowed to Skype with friends or relatives who live out of town or are too young to visit, said Leticia Dahlke, the NICU assistant director.
“Because of security reasons we really couldn’t do that,” she said. “We couldn’t use just any application that’s out there. So finally we made a few a requests over time. They probably have been requesting for a few years now.”
Ultimately UCLA bought a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-approved application meant for tele-conferencing, but they let the NICU try it out for parents starting in October, Dahlke said.
Parents can use the program for two 15-minute periods a day. The iPad is placed on top of the child’s incubator, facing downward. There is no sound so the nurses have written little notes like “thanks for visiting me,” and “I love my grandparents,” which they place next to the baby periodically throughout the session.
Amber isn’t the only relative who wanted to see Asher, but couldn’t visit him as he gained strength in the NICU. Helen Cox’s family lives in England.
“My dad and sister saw him for the first time on there,” she said. “My dad cried, he sobbed. That for me was just so valuable.”
Helen Cox visited Asher all but one of the nearly 100 days that he was in the hospital, usually twice a day. Still, being away from her baby was excruciating.
“For me, one of the hardest things to do as a mom in this situation is to leave your kids at night, night after night, 93 days of not taking that person home with you, who is meant to be with you,” she said. “I can phone up and say I want a quick update. But to actually see your son, that’s like a little lifeline.”
Asher went home on Dec. 13.