UNC Children’s Physician Nationally Recognized for Efforts in Neonatal Medicine

In North Carolina, more than 10 percent of all births are pre-term (before 37 weeks gestation). At UNC Children’s, Dr. Michael O’Shea and his team are combining research and a family-centered approach to care to achieve the best possible outcomes for children born prematurely and their families.

UNC Children’s Physician Nationally Recognized for Efforts in Neonatal Medicine click to enlarge Dr. Michael O'Shea

For babies born very prematurely, the health challenges are complex and the road ahead is often uncertain. The emotional and physical toll their parents feel is unlike any other experience. In addition to providing the best possible care, the staff of UNC Children’s Newborn Critical Care Center tries to tell these parents three important things.

First, they make sure parents know they are not alone.  A Family Advisory Board – comprised of parents whose children have been in the same situation – share experiences and listen to concerns as only these parents can.   Second, they give the parents hope. A wall in the NCCC features a bulletin board adorned with dozens of pictures of older, healthy children who were there before.  Finally, they help parents understand that the people caring for their babies are among the very best in our country – people like Dr. Michael O’Shea.

T. Michael O’Shea Jr., MD, MPH, has dedicated his career to improving the odds for premature babies. He is also no stranger to the area.  He joined UNC Children’s in 2015 as Division Chief of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics. He came from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, where he held three titles: Chief of the Neonatology Division, Vice Chair for Pediatric Research, and Medical Director for the Special Infant Care Clinic. He received his undergraduate degree and his MPH from UNC-Chapel Hill and continued his training at Chapel Hill with an internship and residency in Pediatrics/Internal Medicine. He received his Fellowship training at Duke University.

Last month, Dr. O’Shea was awarded the 2016 Neonatal Landmark Award by the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine in recognition for his contributions to the area of Neonatology.

Dr. O’Shea serves as primary investigator for the ELGAN (Extremely Low Gestational Age Newborns) Study.  ELGAN follows over 1000 children born at least three months early between 2002 and 2004, and so far has followed the children and their families through age 10 to learn more about what impacts prematurity may have on children over time.

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded funding to allow Dr. O’Shea and his team to see the families again at the age of 15. This time, the team will look at how environmental or biological factors may affect the genes in the mother’s placenta - and how those changes could affect childhood obesity, brain development and asthma for these children later in life.

“Because we have samples from the placenta of each child in the study, we’re able to explore mechanisms between prenatal events and long-term health issues,” Dr. O’Shea said. The environment or stress that impacts the placenta actually impacts cells in the fetus. We want to know more about how those impacts manifest as children get older.”

Dr. O’Shea always smiles when he thinks about the future of the study – and the families participating in it.

“Seeing the progress these children have made over the years is always exciting,” he said. “While some face challenges, the majority of them are either have no development impairments or only mild impairments.”

Dr. O’Shea’s smile only grows when he thinks about seeing his patients’ families in UNC’s outpatient clinic for follow-up visits after leaving the Newborn Critical Care Center.

“Patient care is rewarding and exciting here at UNC,” Dr. O’Shea said. “The complexity of the patients we see is high, but the quality of our team and our approach to family-centered care is exceptional. I’m proud to be a part of what we’re doing to care for families long after they leave for home.”

Dr. O’Shea and the staff of the Newborn Critical Care Center are also grateful for the support they get from people everywhere, because the commitment necessary to provide this care is as intense as it is constant.  Support for the NCCC is a gift that lasts a very special lifetime – and is only a click away


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