68 NICU babies moved to new Sanderson Tower

Jessica Carter of Jackson plays with daughter Lyndsey Lee Carter in one of the new private NICU rooms in the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi.

Story provided by Annie Oeth, UMMC


On Tuesday, Jessica Carter slept near her baby for the first time, inside one of the 88 private rooms of the neonatal intensive care unit in the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi.

“Holding her and helping care for her is the best part,” Carter said. “I didn’t get to hold her until she weighed 2 pounds, 12 ounces.”

Lyndsey Lee Carter came to the University of Mississippi Medical Center April 18 as a 1-pound, 3-ounce micro-preemie. Two surgeries and time to heal and grow followed.

“Having her in the NICU has been a roller coaster ride,” Carter said. “Her care was amazing, though.”

Lyndsey Lee was one of 67 babies moved one by one Wednesday from the neonatal intensive care unit at Wiser Hospital for Women and Infants to the Sanderson Tower, where 88 private NICU rooms are available for parents and their babies.

The rooms feature beds for parents and private bathrooms along with the space needed for medical teams and experts.

“They put so much thought into these rooms, and they are bigger than I was expecting,” Carter said. “You can tell they were thinking about what a family would need.”

Medical teams were on hand to receive patients, including Serenity Stockman of Columbus, at the Sanderson Tower. (Image courtesy of UMMC)

The neonatal intensive care unit at UMMC is the state’s only Level IV NICU, the highest and most comprehensive level of care. UMMC’s pediatric arm, Children’s of Mississippi, includes the state’s only children’s hospital and outpatient specialty clinics around the state.

Just over six months later, Lyndsey Lee weighs 12 pounds. “My sister calls her ‘Butterball.’”

Carter hopes Lyndsey Lee will be coming home to north Jackson soon.

“Her room has been ready for months,” she said. “It’s deep purple with unicorns and rainbows.”

The NICU move was the last of the patient transfers from older intensive care spaces to the Sanderson Tower. On Wednesday, four new patients were admitted to the NICU floors at the Sanderson Tower, bringing the first day’s NICU patient count to 71.

Chief of Newborn Medicine Dr. Mobolaji Famuyide communicates with her team during the transfer of patients to the NICU floors of the Sanderson Tower. (Image courtesy of UMMC)

“Everything went so well,” said Dr. Mobolaji Famuyide, chief of Newborn Medicine, of the transfer of patients. “None of our patients had any problems during the move, and all of our employees worked together as a team for the children.”

Planning of the five-hour transfer of NICU patients has been in the works since 2016, well before the first brick of the Sanderson Tower had even been laid. Famuyide and her team have been researching best practices in moving neonatal intensive care patients developed by the nation’s most respected children’s hospitals.

As the opening of the Sanderson Tower neared, teams including neonatologists, neonatal nurses, nurse practitioners, speech-language pathologists and respiratory therapists began training, rehearsing each step in the transfer process.

“Today’s move completes our journey to becoming a state-of-the-art children’s hospital,” Famuyide said. “This is state-of-the-art when it comes to design, and it matches the medical professionals and equipment here. This is the future, and it’s here now for Mississippi.”

Medical teams traveled alongside each critically ill infant on the journey to the Sanderson Tower and its 88 private NICU rooms. (Image courtesy of UMMC)

The move completes the opening of the Sanderson Tower. Named for Sanderson Farms CEO and board chairman Joe Sanderson and his wife, Kathy, the children’s hospital expansion is a complement to the Blair E. Batson Tower, which was built in 1997. Inpatient hospital rooms are inside the Batson Tower, which connects to the Sanderson Tower. Together, the two towers form the children’s hospital.

The Sanderson Tower’s opening began Monday with surgery, specialty clinics and an imaging center with MRI machines that look more like a lighthouse and a pirate ship than medical equipment. On Tuesday, 12 critically ill children were transferred from the pediatric intensive care unit at the Batson Tower to larger private PICU rooms in the Sanderson Tower.

Dr. Mary Taylor (Image courtesy of UMMC)

“The activation of the Sanderson Tower has gone better than I ever could have imagined,” said Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair, professor and chair of Pediatrics. “Yesterday’s transfer of PICU patients was done very safely, and since then, we have admitted a few more children to the PICU. Our NICU move was a huge feat, and so many doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and respiratory therapists were pitching in to transfer these patients, one by one, very safely.”

Taylor said the clinical space, opened Monday, has cared for more than 194 children this week. More than 60 surgical procedures have been performed inside the Sanderson Tower’s dozen operating rooms.

Abbey Phillips of Madison was taking son Ward to an outpatient visit with a Children’s of Mississippi specialist Wednesday.

“The Sanderson Tower is beautiful,” she said, “and we got done in an hour what would have taken us three hours before!”

The Sandersons, in 2016, launched the philanthropic drive to help fund a children’s hospital expansion at the University of Mississippi Medical Center with a $10 million personal gift. The Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi has since raised more than 84 percent of its $100 million goal.

“We have excellent providers, and this brings our facilities up to a completely different level,” Taylor said. “Having the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower is just a leap into the future.”