17 March 2021

Tiny 'Paul' to make big difference to premature babies

| Michael Weaver
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Doctors and nurses work on Paul

Hands-on for doctors and nurses at Canberra Hospital on a pre-term simulation baby ‘Paul’. Photos: Michael Weaver.

The chest of 27-week pre-term baby ‘Paul’ rises and falls as doctors and nurses at the Canberra Hospital provide oxygen during what is known as ‘the golden hour’ – a vital period after a premature baby is born.

Suddenly, Paul, a one-kilogram simulation baby, changes colour as a doctor monitors the blood and oxygen saturation levels via a laptop. Nurses insert a tiny tube down Paul’s windpipe and give small bursts of oxygen. Soon, those levels return to normal and Paul begins crying.

Until now, doctors and nurses in Canberra have had to rely on a full-term simulation baby to do their training on pre-term babies, but Paul is as close to real-life as it gets.

Thanks to a generous donation by the Humpty Dumpty Foundation, more than 100 nurses and registrars in Canberra will be able to develop the skills they need to provide better outcomes for premature babies by training on Paul for resuscitation and complications such as hypothermia, hypoxia, bleeding and infections.

“Paul simulates all the issues we see in pre-term babies such as breathing disorders, changes in temperature, bowel disorders and reactions to treatments – all the things we need to be aware of in the golden hour after birth,” says Dr Nadia Schmidt, a neonatologist with Canberra Health Services.


Simulation pre-term baby Paul weighs just one kilogram.

The story of Paul’s arrival at The Canberra Hospital’s neonatal ward is also an amazing one – made possible thanks to a generous bequest to the Humpty Dumpty Foundation from the estate of Lorna Blackwood, a New Zealand-born nurse who served in World War II before migrating to Australia.

Lorna was passionate about helping sick children, and after reading about the Humpty Dumpty Foundation in her local paper, she left a generous bequest to the Foundation.

The pre-term baby simulation system costs $85,000 and the donation to the Canberra Hospital is one of the first in Australia.

The Humpty Dumpty Foundation has raised more than $70 million over 30 years and has provided more than 400 pieces of medical equipment for paediatric wards, neonatal units, maternity and emergency departments. It is the largest charitable supplier of children’s medical equipment across Australia and is working hard with health officials and communities to ensure they have the equipment they need.

Dr Nadia Schmidt and nurses at Canberra Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, with premature baby 'Paul'.

Dr Nadia Schmidt (left) with neonatal ICU nurse Lucy Hoolihan and clinical director of neonatology Dr Hazel Carlisle at Canberra Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Canberra Health Services executive and obstetrician Dr Boon Lim said Paul is a very sophisticated baby that will make a big difference to the 100 babies born before 32 weeks in the ACT each year.

“All pre-term babies require very delicate handling, as do all babies, but the smaller they are, the more delicate they will be, so this allows us to continue to refine our skills through someone like Paul,” Dr Lim said.

“Outcomes for pre-term babies are generally very good, but this simulation baby will help to improve the communication and care for very pre-term babies here in Canberra and the region.”

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Canberra Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in The Centenary Hospital for Women and Children cares for about 700 sick and premature babies every year. Patients are often transferred from Wagga Wagga, Cooma and other regional areas to receive specialist care.

Dr Schmidt says she first met Paul at a conference more than two years ago and is delighted to welcome the unit’s newest addition.

“While we’re always happy to see pre-term babies leave the hospital, we’re happy that this baby is one that will actually stay,” she says. “We’ll be looking after this one very well.”

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