When the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit opened in 1979, Dr. Stephen Minton had his medical education, equipment, two patient beds, support from the hospital — and a desk. Sort of.
“We were located on the labor and delivery floor,” Dr. Minton says. “We knocked out one wall between two rooms, and that was our entire unit, just a few hundred square feet. My desk was one of those adjustable trays that hospital patients eat on.”
Dr. Minton had brought the NICU to the hospital in 1979 when he recognized the demand for a unit that could care for sick or premature babies born in the hospital.
Until the NICU’s opening, newborns failing to thrive or needing extra care were whisked away to various Salt Lake City hospitals, straining the parents and family members who had to travel to and from their homes in Utah County. And since Utah County had (and still has) one of the highest birth rates in the country, Dr. Minton saw a chance to keep newborns close to home.
“Our unit’s opening was a groundbreaking moment in the medical world,” says Janet Frank, spokesperson for UVRMC. “It was the first NICU built outside of a teaching hospital.”
That meant that on top of opening a brand-new NICU, Dr. Minton had to implement a brand-new plan to staff the unit. He trained nurses, residents and private pediatricians to function at a higher capacity to fill the demand.
The NICU has since become one of the largest in the state, and has attracted the attention of the Vermont Oxford Network, a group of health care professionals who work to improve neonatal care, which has called UVRMC’s NICU one of the most family-friendly units in the country.
The emphasis on family-centered care was also a Dr.-Minton-inspired change.
“Over the years we have redesigned our NICU eight times — not just for the babies, but also for the parents,” Dr. Minton says. “Early on, we realized that when a baby is in the NICU, the stress on parents is unbelievable. They were losing their opportunities to be parents.”
“One mother told us, ‘I don’t understand why you suction so often. You can’t tell me it’s making them better, because they always get sicker afterward.’ Based on that, we reevaluated our protocol and reduced suctioning by 80 percent,” Dr. Minton says. “That alone reduced cases of pneumonia in our infants — all based on a mother’s comment.”
Jada Hansen, a NICU nurse and neonatal flight nurse, has also seen the benefits of involving parents in their child’s care.
“We include them in every matter,” Jada says. “We make sure they have good relationships with the occupational therapists, doctors and nurses so that everyone can communicate clearly and take care of the baby.”
Giving parents more opportunities to care for their child meant Dr. Minton’s staff needed to know more about the ins-and-outs of daily neonatal care. So Dr. Minton started giving his nurses the same technical lectures and tests he gave to his residents at the University of Utah, where he previously worked.
“I had high expectations, so I drove them hard,” Dr. Minton says. “Some people left the unit because it wasn’t what they expected. The rest responded well because they were able to do new things.”
But even then, there were some things only he could do.
“One time, I had quadruplets who were born at one pound each,” Dr. Minton says. “Two hours later, another woman delivered a one-pound baby. I went home three months later. My staff brought me food and clean shirts while I lived in the hospital to care for those babies. We did what we needed to do.”
Thirty-six years after opening the NICU in an improvised labor and delivery hall with only a few newborn beds, it is now an 11,000-square-foot unit with 55 beds and staff trained by Dr. Minton, ready to care for each infant in need of special care with a special touch.
Dr. Minton is a one-of-a-kind celebrity. His fans are families of the babies he treats, his followers are doctors who admire his research, and his speaking engagements are for medical conferences and baby blessings.
Flash back three decades where his unique fame began.
The Hansen twins, conjoined at the head, were born in 1977. They were transferred to the University of Utah’s newborn center, where Dr. Minton, as the leader of the team preparing to examine and separate the twins, held a press conference.
“There were so many reporters at the university that they blew out the power,” Dr. Minton says.
He gained notoriety then. But flash forward to 2015, when Dr. Minton headed up the team that cared for the “Gardner Quad Squad.”
[pullquote]“A woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked, ‘Are you a doctor? In Utah?’ I told her I was, and she said, ‘I knew it!’ She had been following the Gardners’ journey with their quadruplets and recognized me from Facebook. She asked me for my autograph.” —Dr. Stephen Minton[/pullquote]
Two months after the quadruplets’ birth, Dr. Minton was ready to send home Indie — the last of the girls to be released. Tyson and Ashley, parents of the quadruplet girls, took a picture with Dr. Minton and posted it on Facebook, where it received more than 56,000 likes.
The next day, while on a shuttle to a hotel in Orlando for a medical conference, Dr. Minton experienced a first.
“A woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked, ‘Are you a doctor? In Utah?’ I told her I was, and she said, ‘I knew it!’ She had been following the Gardners’ journey with their quadruplets and recognized me from Facebook,” Dr. Minton says. “She asked me for my autograph.”
Dr. Minton has seen a lot of change, including how news spreads through press conferences and social media. But for him, some things will never change.
“I’m 70 now and have no plans to retire. I’m increasing all the things I’m involved in — I work 105 hours a week,” Dr. Minton says. “And I’m still not a Facebook person.”