As Scott and Jean Sykora look at their healthy 14-year-old son, a math whiz who enjoys baseball and football, his first months of life spent at Loyola University Health System’s (Loyola) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) seem a distant memory. However, the experience is still fresh enough in their minds to inspire the Hinsdale, Ill., couple to establish a fund in their son’s name — the Daniel J. Sykora Neonatology Research & Education Fund — for Loyola’s NICU medical staff.
"The doctors and nurses in Loyola’s NICU saved Daniel’s life and our sanity," said Mrs. Sykora. "Having a premature child sick enough to be in NICU is every new parent’s nightmare. We want to do our part to further NICU education and research so, perhaps, fewer parents will have to go through the same experience."
Daniel was born 14 weeks early on Jan. 2, 1993 at 26 weeks’ gestation. He weighed only 2 pounds, 2 ounces. Mrs. Sykora went into preterm labor due to a misshaped uterus caused by a medication her own mother had taken when she was pregnant. "I spent one week in the hospital in preterm labor, during which I received steroid shots to help with Daniel’s lung development," she explained. "That probably saved his life because he had good lungs and was able to avoid respiratory problems."
After Daniel’s birth he was given a 50 percent chance of survival. His small size made him vulnerable to infections and viruses. His parents were not able to hold him for three weeks, and he spent his days in an isolette attached to oxygen.
The Sykoras had a few scares while Daniel was in the hospital for more than two months: his weight dropped to 1 pound, 12 ounces; he was not able to regenerate blood taken for several tests and required several blood transfusions from his father; and he underwent hernia surgery. But he survived by escaping the major problems common in premature babies. "He never suffered from brain bleeding, and he seemed to navigate safely through all the high risks. We called him our miracle baby," Mrs. Sykora recalled. "The wonderful care provided by the doctors and nurses at Loyola was responsible for his healthy outcome. We met a lot of kind people who not only provided high-tech care but the human spirit side of care."
Daniel went home healthy on March 19, 1993, weighing 4 pounds, 8 ounces. Today he is straight-A eighth grader who takes an advanced geometry class at Hinsdale Central High School. The endowment named after Daniel was made possible in part by a generous gift from LJM Partners, an investment financial firm where Mr. Sykora serves as managing director. "My business partner, Tony Caine, founded the firm; he is like an uncle to our son," said Mr. Sykora. "The fund will help doctors interested in specializing in neonatology."
The fund will be used to increase educational opportunities for physicians, fellows and residents working in the NICU including Jonathan Muraskas, MD, professor of neonatal-perinatal medicine/obstetrics & gynecology, who was part of the team that took care of Daniel. It also will provide money to further research on causes and treatments for premature births.
The practice of neonatology is relatively young, and there are many unanswered questions including why premature infants commonly experience bleeding in their brains and bowel infections, according to Dr. Muraskas, who is director of the Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine Fellowship Program and chair of the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine Committee on Admissions.
Researchers also are working on treatments to help younger premature infants not only survive but thrive; currently NICU technology has reached a plateau at a specific gestational age. Dr. Muraskas explained that a 2-pound baby born at 27 weeks’ gestation has a 90 percent chance of survival and a less than 10 percent chance of having significant developmental problems. However, a 1-pound baby born at 23 weeks’ gestation has only a 30 percent chance of survival and a 90 percent chance of significant developmental problems. "We haven’t made much progress with these extremely small birth weight babies," he said. "Additional research is needed to improve their outcomes, preferably to keep them from being born too soon. Survival is one thing, but their quality of life is just as important."
Dr. Muraskas expressed his gratitude for the Sykora’s gift and encouraged other parents of NICU babies to consider donating to the fund or starting a new one. "Financial gifts like the Sykora’s endowment will help us continue our work and retain our status as one of the top neonatal centers in the country," he said. "However, the biggest satisfaction for me and everyone working in Loyola’s NICU is seeing our graduates excel in high school, college and life in general. When a baby as small as Danny not only does well but thrives, that makes all our work worthwhile."
To contribute to the Daniel J. Sykora Neonatology Research & Education Fund, or for more information on making your own gift to Loyola’s NICU, contact the Office of Development at (708) 216-3201 or firstname.lastname@example.org.