Dr. Terrie Inder’s colleagues describe her as “just as likely to be found sitting beside an incubator holding the hands of weeping parents, as she is to be pouring over data or treating her hospital’s sickest babies.” As chair of the department of pediatric newborn medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, Dr. Inder has learned the significance of considering the baby’s whole health, including complex physiological factors.
“In the last decade,” she says, “We have learnt how much our infants experience during their stays – they feel pain, they feel anxiety, and they lack nurturing, touch and the parental voice. These noxious experiences and lack of sensitive caring experiences impact brain development and long-term outcomes in ways that we are only just uncovering in our research.”
“From the moment we met, I knew Dr. Inder was the ideal person to have involved in our baby’s care. She was smart, funny, compassionate, and she seemed to know just what we needed to hear in order to persist during such an incredibly difficult time.”
The effects of these conditions extend beyond her tiny patients. She has also discovered the emotional and psychological toll that having a newborn in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) has on parents and families. “Over half of our parents develop an anxiety disorder during their infant’s stay and 35 percent of parents leave exceeding the threshold for clinical depression. The most stressful experience for the parents is the loss of their role of being a parent and their inability to make decisions for their babies.”
Recognizing these challenges, Dr. Inder has meticulously planned every detail of the NICU to support her patients and their parents, down to the paint colors on the walls and the sounds babies hear in the unit. The environment builds essential connections between parents and their premature newborns. As one colleague says, “She believes compassionate care–delivered in the right way, at the right time, by the right people–is just as vital to an infant’s survival and success as the medicine and devices doctors use to treat them.”
One example of Terrie’s drive for compassionate care in dire circumstances involved a baby with severe irreversible brain injury detected soon after birth. The family was devastated, but once they became reconciled to the dismal options for survival, they wished to have their baby be an organ donor. Prior to this, the hospital guidelines for donation excluded neonatal patients. However, Terrie was able to get an exception and ensured that the infant could donate his heart and kidneys to three recipients. The relief and gratefulness of the grieving family was evident.
The parent of an infant born at 26 weeks and weighing less than two pounds, says of Dr. Inder, “From the moment we met, I knew Dr. Inder was the ideal person to have involved in our baby’s care. She was smart, funny, compassionate, and she seemed to know just what we needed to hear in order to
persist during such an incredibly difficult time. Dr. Inder is many things to many people, but to us she is the reason my husband and I are able to share our lives with a charming, vivacious, and incredibly stubborn 3-year-old. Without her medical acumen, coupled so perfectly with the compassionate care of our child and our family as a whole, our lives might look very different.”