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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Michaela and Zach Evans, with their 1-year-old daughter Mackley, demonstrate the use of a webcam to check in on their infant son, Zaden, who is in the neonatal intensive care unit, at Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. The webcam allows family members to log in from a computer or mobile device and watch a live video feed of their infant in the hospital.

OREM — Mackley Evans knows the excitement surrounding her baby brother, but she's only seen him online, through a camera fastened to the side of his bed in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Her brother, Zaden, was born 11 weeks early on Jan. 30 and has had to stay in the NICU at Timpanogos Regional Hospital ever since.

"Because we have (Mackley), we're not able to be up here all the time," said the new mother of two, Michaela Evans. "It's nice to be able to log in and see him sleeping away. It really calms my nerves."

Timpanogos Regional became the first hospital in the state to have the bedside cameras about two weeks ago. A $25,000 grant funded by the 2016 Pathway Award helped cover the cost for 12 cameras, and the hospital has already paid for four more, planning to soon have one hooked to each of its 24 available NICU beds.

"It has broken down barriers and allowed families to be together," said the hospital's chief nursing officer, Sandy Ewell. She said intensive care unit accommodations are often isolating for family and friends, which limits exposure and bonding time with the babies.

The hospital had been using tablet computers to let families view their NICU babies from home when necessary, but the process was "sporadic and challenging" for nurses, Ewell said.

Having the cameras installed, she said, has led to less anxiety among parents, better milk production for mothers and greater family connectivity, as they are able to check in whenever they want or need to. The technology also allows siblings to meet the new babies prior to an often unknown future release date.

Young children are prohibited from visiting the NICU, specifically during the winter months when potentially harmful influenza and respiratory syncytial viruses are rampant.

"Bro-tha," Mackley, 16 months, said as she pointed to the screen on her parents' iPad. She already knows him well and her mom said the long-distance acquaintance may prove to be helpful during the transition once Zaden makes it home.

"I'm so glad she can see what he's like," Evans said. "Without this, she wouldn't know him at all."

The cameras also make it easier to justify not making the long drive from Santaquin every time the eager and doting mother wants to check on her newborn son, but Evans said the fact that she can watch him at any time of any day doesn't replace the feeling she gets when she holds him or touches him in real life.

"We try to do that as much as we can," she said. Her husband, Zach Evans, is in school and working full time so he has even fewer chances to be with little Zaden, who has reached a whopping 5 pounds, 7 ounces in his five weeks at the NICU.

With the help of the private and secure live feed, the couple can show off their baby boy to friends and neighbors who ask about his progress.

The hospital and NICU staff still encourage face-to-face visits from parents, as skin-to-skin contact is believed necessary to help premature babies better develop. And Zaden has begun eating on his own, now, too, making visits that much more important.

"It's been so positive for parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles who live out of state to be able to see the infants in real time," said Brooke Fonohema, a NICU nurse at Timpanogos Regional. She said the cameras don't impede regular care for the babies in any way.

Nurses are able to switch off the cameras for private procedures, and they are also able to share updates about the babies in the form of "notes" posted to the live feed.

"It gives the parents peace of mind," Fonohema said.

Parents of babies born early or in trying circumstances, the nurse said, often experience stress and increased worry. There are occasional setbacks when the babies' health can slide a bit, and the cameras give parents a front-row seat to everything that happens so they won't feel bad or put more pressure on themselves for missing out because of their already demanding work schedules and home lives.

"Technology and nursing just came together in a big way to make it better for our families," Ewell said, adding that she thinks every hospital should offer visual communication with babies living at the hospital for whatever reasons.