Families check on NICU babies anytime, anywhere with secure webcams

When Heather Harlan wakes up at 3 a.m., her heart stops racing the moment she sees her son sleeping soundly—his hands behind his head like his dad and his thin feeding tube still in place.

  Thanks to generous donations from community and corporate leaders, new cameras now help family and friends feel like they’re in the Carle Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) even when they can’t be. Carle is the first hospital in Illinois to use the NicView webcam system to help loved ones connect and cope using smartphones, tablets and other technology.

Carle’s NICU saw 488 patients in 2013 and 543 in 2014. As the number of tiny patients grows, so does the number of families that must balance being with their preemie and other necessities like family, work and a good night’s sleep.

When Heather can’t be with Konnor, the 10 miles between St. Joseph and the NICU might as well be 10,000. Her husband, Scott, works nights in an emergency veterinary hospital. The Harlans are with Konnor, who was born January 26 at 33 weeks, as much as they can be.

“It will be better when you’re home,” Heather cooed to her sleeping son, his shirt cuffs rolled up several times so his small hands can peek out. “But being with you here and seeing you online will have to work until then.”  

VIDEO: See Konnor’s story.

Secure access from any device will be simple for anyone with internet access and parents’ permission. If family and friends log in and don’t see the baby’s tightly framed face, an on-screen message will explain it’s time for an exam, a feeding, a bath or a diaper change.

Theresa Green, NICU nurse supervisor, knows how much details like that matter to families whose babies spend days, weeks and even months under special care.

“We’re sure these cameras will be an asset to the NICU families we serve. Near or far, they will feel more connected, less worried,” she said.

Mattoon mom Shelby Bloxson will never forget the five months her daughter Olivia spent in Carle’s NICU—and returning to work after maternity leave.

“It was so scary watching my child fight for her life, but with Carle doctors and nurses, we felt safe,” Shelby said. “Having a webcam then would have made our experience even better—to see Olivia, to have the comfort of looking at her online whenever I wanted to—would have been amazing.”

Through the Carle Center for Philanthropy, the Carle Golf Open provided most of the approximately $100,000 needed to purchase 48 cameras for Carle’s Level III NICU. The Core, a group of up-and-coming community leaders who serve as Carle advocates, provided funding, as well. For more information, please visit, Carle.org/give.