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Online comfort for NICU parents

When Joshua Paharsingh was born 15 weeks too soon, at only 1 pound, 4 ounces, his parents were distressed and overwhelmed.

"We didn't know anything about what to expect next," Peter Paharsingh said.

That was Dec. 7, 2009. A few weeks later, Paharsingh and his wife

Rose started consulting a computerized information kiosk installed at Chris Evert Children's Hospital at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale and they developed a greater understanding of their son's progress.

The nurses and doctors are so helpful, but suddenly we could go to the computer and really get an education," Paharsingh said.

The kiosk, provided by the March of Dimes Florida chapter through a $300,000 donation from WalMart Foundation, is one of 13 now available at neonatal intensive care units at 13 Florida hospitals. One of the first kiosks was installed at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood in May 2009.

Representatives from the March of Dimes and WalMart celebrated the latest installation at Chris Evert Children's Hospital with a March 11 tour of the neonatal unit and tutorial about how to use the center.

Each kiosk is set for Internet access to four websites: March of Dimes;, where parents can write about their personal situations; March of Dimes Spanish site; and a link to the hospital's website.

Information pamphlets and booklets about premature birth or other life threatening medical issues for babies are available on racks attached to the kiosk.

Rochelle Darman, a spokeswoman for the March of Dimes Florida Chapter, said the information centers came out of a campaign launched in 2003 to raise awareness that premature births are “a rampant and costly problem” that most people rarely think about until they are affected.

According to the March of Dimes, 543,000 babies are born premature every year in the United States.

Also, 1 in 10 babies are admitted to neonatal units because they are born too soon, too small or with a birth defect. About 6 percent of the babies don't make it, but there are also many happy endings.

Joshua was given a 20 percent chance of survival.

Now he's at 5.3 pounds and nearly ready to go home, said Dr. David Mendez, director of the neonatal unit at Chris Evert.

Mendez said the kiosk helps parents understand the intensity of the situation, learn what to expect during their infant's continued development outside the womb, and realize that happy endings happen more often than not. Mendez said one of the most important features of the kiosk is the sharing page.

"It's a supplement to getting great medical care in the hospital," Mendez said. "Parents are shocked when they are faced with this but only a parent can tell another parent that things will be OK."