Smallest patients fighting for lives: A look at a NICU

Dr. Anatoily Ilzarov has a big job, he saves the littlest lives at McAllen Medical Center.

He is the director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

We're taking care of tiny babies that were born before their time...babies that need a lot of respiratory support, said Dr. Ilzarov.

More than 700 babies are born prematurely, or before 37 weeks of gestation, yearly at McAllen Medical.

Most of them will have an average stay of 10-15 days.

But others aren't as fortunate.

In fact, Dr. Ilzarov says, We can have babies who are very small. as small as 21 weeks of gestation. those babies can weigh 400-500 grams, or less than 1 pound, and those babies can stay 3-4 months."

Babies born at this age are high risk, have greater respiratory problems, and require ventilators for assistance.

Dr. Ilzarov actually utilizes a high frequency jet ventilator.

It TMs a premier machine that allows for a more gentle approach.

As opposed to a conventional ventilator, the jet ventilator provides tiny volumes of air, and allows lungs to not be destroyed by high pressure. This is so the lungs don't get remodeled and babies don't develop chronic lung disease, Dr. Ilzarov says.

Now, while the road to recovery is a physically grueling process for these tiny bundles of joy, it's equally as hard on their parents who bare the emotional burden.

Dr. Ilzarov says those at the Neonatal Unit, "Talk to them on a regular basis and encourage them to ask questions.

Questions, with answers, that will forever define the first weeks of their babies lives.