FORT WORTH -- The "bracelet" on Zara Leonard's ankle weighs only about a third of an ounce. Still, it looks a little clunky on the tiny leg of the day-old baby.
But it's not there for decoration. The device, a radio transmitter in a little box with an adjustable strap, is a crucial component of North Texas hospitals' measures to prevent the abduction of newborns.
It sets off an alarm if the baby is carried from the nursery or a hospital room.
Zara was born at Baylor All Saints Medical Center's Andrews Women's Hospital. Abduction "wasn't a concern for us when we came to the hospital," said her father, Paul Leonard of Fort Worth. "But knowing this hospital has one makes us feel good."
Baby abductions from hospitals are rare in the U.S. There are 4.3 million births annually at more than 3,500 facilities. Since 1983, 274 cases of infant abductions by nonrelatives have been reported, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Forty-seven percent occurred in hospitals, and in most of those cases, the babies were taken from their mother's room.
But just one abduction would be one too many, hospital officials say.
That's why hospitals have security staffs, security training for nurses, locked nurseries and ID bracelets for infants and relatives.
"Infant security is right up there with giving medications," said Kecia Kelly, director of maternal, newborns and neonatal intensive care at Andrews. "Nurses will always be our first line of defense."
The hospital also employs electronic tagging systems such as Kara's bracelet..
The monitor, strapped on a newborn's ankle, sends a signal to nearby monitoring stations. An alarm sounds if the device is cut off, slips off or leaves designated areas.
"In labor rooms, when a baby is ready to go up to the mother's room, a nurse has 15 minutes to move the baby," Kelly said. "If something happens and it takes more than 15 minutes, the alarm goes off."
Hospital security measure are activated if an alarm sounds and a baby isn't accounted for within five minutes.
For the Leonard family, the ankle monitor on Zara was familiar. Older sister Zoey, 3, had one when she was born at Andrews.
"You just can't have too many preventive measures," said Christy Leonard, the girls' mother. "We believe in them."
Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763