Dr. Gregor Alexander
Alexander Center for Neonatology,
Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, Orlando Health
Modern medicine is one of the most remarkable achievements of our era. I remember the first person I knew who underwent heart bypass surgery back in the ’80s and the first who had knee or hip replacements. Though today these procedures are considered almost routine, I can’t tell you how awestruck I was when I met Dr. Gregor Alexander and visited the neonatology center at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies that bears his name. During his remarkable career, babies born weighing less than two pounds had only a 10% survival rate; now it is 96%. During this same period, severally premature babies who go on to develop normally has climbed from 50% to 85% today.
THE ATTRACTION OF MEDICINE:
Very early in life, at just seven years old, I knew I wanted to be a physician. With all of the medical specialties, I was always intrigued by children and babies. When I was young, newborn medicine was almost non-existent; then when I came to the United States in 1972, the first newborn respirators were being developed. I remember when I went into a new neonatal unit in Detroit, I thought to myself, ‘I’m home.’ This is where I want to dedicate the rest of my life.
THE JOURNEY TO ORLANDO:
I went to the University of Miami and finished my general pediatric training and newborn medicine and came here in the late ’70s. We had a six-bed neonatal unit, but we were saving babies and we had a very dedicated group of specialists who dreamed of building a children’s hospital. In the 1980’s, Arnold and Winnie Palmer visited our unit and saw what we were doing and we presented the dream. He said, “We can do better, we will do better.” In the late 80’s we built the Arnold Palmer Hospital and in 2006 built Winnie Palmer. It is a long way from the donut shop I was dropped off at with two pieces of luggage in Detroit years ago.
ADVANCES BEYOND TECHNOLOGY:
This is not only one of the largest neonatal units in the country – it is one of the best, but we are about caring, commitment and compassion, about delivering extraordinary care. We discovered as we were improving our medical technology, we also had to heal the soul and the spirit of our babies. We used to have visiting hours two or three times a day, for a half to one hour. As we saw the power of parents’ tender loving care, their touch, their voice, we extended it to 24 hours and could measure the impact on a baby’s blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels.
Prevention is far cheaper than trying to correct a medical problem. The United States doesn’t lead in this arena like some European countries. In caring for premature babies, the introduction of breast milk is one of the most effective nutritional and immune-boosting agents; because of it fatal conditions that were common have become rare. Our region is one of the few that has a breast milk bank. Frankly, neonatology is advancing so rapidly I am amazed at the discoveries and breakthroughs we are making every day.