Area doctor celebrates successes of once-ill infants
- Written by Robert Kleeman
Neonatologist Angel Muñoz memorizes the infants’ names and stories. He points at a baby born 26 weeks into the normal 40-week pregnancy cycle and listens to it wail. The underdeveloped newborn is nestled in a special bed, hooked to machines and receiving medicines that will help her overcome birth complications. He hopes the baby will return to her mother in a month. Muñoz, who works at the Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital, will reunite a group of ill or prematurely born infants who spent time in his Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at a party next month. The reunion, the 13th Muñoz has organized, will feature refreshments, clowns, face painting, balloons, finger printing from the Humble Police Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy and a visit from McGruff, the crime dog. Muñoz says he uses the annual event to celebrate the triumphs of the formerly-sick infants he treated in his unit. He calls his success stories “graduates,” and invites them to attend the event, set for Sept. 14, 1-3 p.m. at the Humble Civic Center. “For the nurses and myself, it’s so rewarding,” he says. “They come back, some of them walking and talking.” Muñoz attends every high-risk infant delivery at the hospital, treating them from birth. He says technological developments since his residency in 1986 have allowed doctors to save sick infants once thought not treatable. Dayna Christensen, a charge nurse in the unit, says most babies return home and live healthy lives. She said the unit is handling about seven infants, lower than the usual 15 per month average. She points at a sleeping infant born at the halfway mark of his mother’s pregnancy. “Twenty years ago, these babies would not have made it,” she says. Muñoz says he uses Surfactant, a lung therapy developed in the 1990s, to expedite the infants’ recoveries. “We practically drown the baby with this fluid and it helps them,” he says. “Surfactant made a big difference. It’s like having a Studebaker and then having a Mercedes Benz.” Muñoz says parents often visit his unit with their healthy babies to thank the staff. He says the reunion is another way he monitors the progress of his graduates. As he clasps the tiny hand of a newborn baby in severe discomfort, he says, “This is a baby we hope will visit us at the reunion next year.” Photo: Neonatologist Angel Muñoz holds one-month-old Lupita Garcia. The infant was born 27 weeks into her mother’s pregnancy and will live in Muñoz’s intensive care unit until she is healthy enough to go home.