FORT WORTH -- After spending two weeks in the cramped quarters of Cook Children's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, tiny Marley Walter made a minutes-long journey on Tuesday to her new room on Sea Horse Lane.
Her mother, Sara Walter, who has never been able to spend the night with her baby because there was no space in the old NICU, was elated.
"It's like the Hilton here," she said. "It's awesome."
Marley, who was born seven weeks prematurely, was one of 56 babies who settled into the medical center's new $51 million NICU after an orchestrated move months in the making.
Moving these fragile babies -- including an infant weighing less than 2 pounds, a set of twins and many on ventilators or IV drips -- was no small feat.
Throughout the afternoon, teams gingerly moved infants to their new private rooms with whimsical addresses such as Little Dipper Drive and Sand Castle Court.
Each baby was settled into one of the 99 private rooms in the NICU, part of a $250 million medical-center expansion.
"This is a dream come true for us," said Barbara Greer, director of Cook Children's NICU. "Families will finally be able to stay with their sick babies and be more involved in their care."
The old NICU, built in 1989, was only 17,000 square feet and designed around the needs of healthcare providers, Greer said. But the new 77,000-square-foot NICU was designed with babies and their parents in mind.
Parents, whose babies spend an average of 30 days in NICU, will be able to sleep in the room and invite extended family members to visit as well.
They'll also have access to showers, laundry facilities and the Internet, said Nancy Cychol, president of Cook Children's Medical Center.
To reduce distractions, sound and lighting can be controlled in each room. Even the trash can be emptied from the hallway so the babies are not bothered by the sound of cans being emptied, said Stan Davis, vice president of facilities and ancillary services.
Greer visited NICUs around the country to come up with the best practices for Cook Children's.
"I think this signals a new era in neonatal care," she said.
It has also meant a shift in thinking for families who became used to having a roomful of nurses around if their baby's monitor started beeping.
"It can be kind of scary to go from a big barn to a room by yourself," Greer said.
But technology will keep nurses and babies connected around-the-clock. A hands-free device allows staff to communicate with each other and monitor the babies. The device tells the nurse how the baby is doing even when the nurse is not in the room, Greer said.
"If a baby's heart beat dips, you're going to know it," said Wendy Dougherty, a nurse in the NICU. "These babies are just going to thrive."
Studies show that when premature and sick babies are in private rooms where parents can be with them, they have better long-term outcomes, Greer said. Recliner rockers in the rooms promote skin-to-skin care, which has been shown to encourage bonding.
But Walter doesn't need a study to know what a difference it will make to be able to breast-feed her daughter in private and sleep in the same room with her.
"I'm so ready to get up with her at night, feed her and hold her all day," the Weatherford mother said. "It's just amazing."
Jan Jarvis, 817-390-7664