Being kept apart from your premature baby must be one of the hardest things to go through. This is something that Sergeant Sam Last knows all about. He couldn’t be with his newborn in person – but nonetheless, his daughter was being watched.
Sam Last and his partner had a bit of a rough ride back in 2016. Last, a staff sergeant in the military, was posted in Kuwait when something dramatic happened at home – his pregnant partner gave birth somewhat earlier than expected.
Their baby girl, who the couple named Charlie, was born a full six weeks prematurely. Because she had arrived so early, doctors placed her in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) so that she’d get the attention and treatment that she needed.
Unsurprisingly, Last’s partner said that it was a “scary” time, just as any mom in the same situation would. And the fact that the father of her child was half a world away from them both can only have made the situation even harder to bear for them both.
Physically, Last was roughly 7,000 miles away from his tiny daughter – something that any dad would find incredibly difficult to deal with. But there was something different about the NICU at University of Kansas Hospital.
Baby Charlie was being watched in the NICU – by Big Brother. But the surveillance wasn’t as sinister as it sounds. Rather, the brand new technology proved invaluable in allowing her soldier dad to see exactly what was going on.
The technology was called Angel Eye, and it consisted of a series of discreet cameras placed all around the NICU. They were installed so that parents, who couldn’t be at their babies’ side continuously, were still able to feel involved in their care.
While Charlie was in an NICU incubator, the soldier had the option to switch on his phone or tablet at any moment and see a live feed of his daughter – the next best thing to being there in the flesh.
Hospital nurse Laurie Hay, was full of praise for Angel Eye, saying, “It gives the families the ability to see their baby any time.” She believed parents found “reassurance” in seeing their baby in real time, she told TV news channel KSHB41 in May 2016.
10. For Last in particular, the software was a savior. “It’s hard to believe that I’m looking at my daughter 7,000 miles away in Kuwait,” he told 41 Action News. And he couldn’t have been more grateful for the 21 cameras installed at the hospital.
“Thank you so much, you’re making dreams and wishes come true overseas,” the soldier said when asked about the innovative technology. The cameras meant that he was able to see his daughter a lot sooner than he otherwise might have, albeit not in person.
The makers of the Angel Eye software say that the system is designed to “promote bonding between parents and their premature babies,” especially because newborns often have to spend a number of weeks under medical supervision before they’re allowed home.
Not only is the video a live feed, but there is also audio capability. The sound goes in one direction, so parents have the option to soothe their newborn with hushed tones delivered via microphones and speakers linked to the camera system.
The initial designs for Angel Eye were dreamed up by a team at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) way back in 2006. It all began with little webcams which were attached to the intravenous drip supports by the side of a child’s bed.
After that, in 2009, the next bed-mounted iteration of Angel Eye was conceived. And then, over the next few years, other medical facilities besides UAMS began to use the technology. The concept was fully established as a company named Angel Eye Camera Systems LLC in 2013.
Angel Eye has since seen $500,000 come rolling in from investors. Not only that, but a significant grant of $73,000 from Royals Charities has also contributed positively.
These days, UAMS has an Angel Eye camera fitted on every single bed for premature babies – a first for the state. And the pioneering technology has spread beyond Arkansas. Angel Eye is now installed in 45 hospitals across the U.S., and there are more signed up and waiting for installation.
Of course, nothing can quite compare to physically being at the bedside of a premature baby. But for unfortunate parents who have no choice but to be separated from their newborn, Angel Eye offers the next best thing.
“Although we wish no child would spend time in the hospital, we’re pleased to join KU Hospital in its care of children and families,” said a representative from Royals Charities, which helped fund the software at the unit where little Charlie was kept.
Eventually, Last was able to fly home from Kuwait and see his little girl in person. But he couldn’t thank Angel Eye enough for bridging the gap between him and his newborn in the meantime. “You guys are amazing,” the doting father said.