When you see Dr. Ed O’Neill in his trademark bowtie, carefully tending the tiny newborns in Western Baptist’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, you think he was born for this job.
Perhaps he was, but he didn’t start out to be a neonatologist. He didn’t start out to be a doctor at all.
After college, the Floridian was working for Apple Computer Inc. when he took on a second job – one that changed his life. He worked with chronically-ill children at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. (That’s right, THE Paul Newman, whom he got to know.)
“It was an incredible experience,” he said, “so much so that I thought I would become a pediatric oncologist.”
So he decided to go to medical school. Through that journey, he found another calling.
“I realized I liked inpatient medicine, and I felt at home in the NICU.”
This father of four (soon to be five) takes care of the smallest and sickest babies. Many advancements, such as medication to manage respiratory distress in newborns, yield amazing results.
However, Dr. O’Neill said it’s something else that makes him want to go to work every day. “After you do anything for a period of time, the medicine takes care of itself, but the people you work with and the patients and their families are always new and rewarding.”
For example, it was the family response on New Year’s Day this year that touched him. “The first babies of the new year were 32-week twins who in years past would have been transferred to a tertiary center. The parents were fantastic and so eager.”
When the day comes for NICU babies to go home, the parents are eager, but they also can be apprehensive.
Dr. O’Neill draws on his own experience as a father, as well as his medical expertise, to calm their nerves.
“I tell them we wouldn’t be sending them home if the baby wasn’t ready. I tell them to use common sense, like washing their hands and using hand sanitizer. I also hand out breastfeeding advice because my wife has breastfed all of our babies.”
He smiles and pats them on the shoulder. They are grateful that advanced medical care – supervised by the doctor in the bowtie – allowed their baby to thrive and grow. Now they can go home together to begin their new lives as a family.
To get to know Dr. O’Neill better, see this video: