Top Doctors 2016

DISCLAIMER: The information in this article was fact checked and accurate at press time, but 417 Magazine cannot guarantee its accuracy indefinitely.

(page 9 of 17)


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Beating the Odds

Dr. Joseph M. Eccher, a Top Doctors winner in neonatology, has helped countless babies through his 32-year career. Sometimes the biggest impact is made by the littlest patients, like Nora Hilburn, who was born 120 days before her due date.

Dr. Joseph M. Eccher helped baby Nora Hillburn survive. Nora was born at 22 weeks and 6 days.

On May 23, Nora Hilburn is celebrating her first birthday. In her first year of life, she’s had surgery, has traveled to St. Louis, and was one of the first babies to christen the new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Cox Medical Center South. That’s because Nora was born at just 22 weeks 6 days. At 22 weeks, babies have a 5 percent chance of survival. But Dr. Joseph M. Eccher helped Nora beat the odds. 

A week after Nora was born, Eccher and the care team were unable to close her PDA (the blood vessel that bypasses a baby’s lungs before birth and is supposed to close naturally after birth to prevent excess blood from flowing through the lungs). Nora was sent to St. Louis Children’s Hospital to doctors who specialize in the surgery she needed. But before she could have the procedure, the doctors had to give her antibiotics for an infection in her PICC line. After a week, she had the surgery to close her PDA vessel, and things were looking up for Nora. 

When she returned to Springfield, Nora and her mom, Moriah Hilburn, started working closely with Eccher and his team. Nora had a breathing tube in her trachea, and she need to have steroids to reduce the swelling before it could be removed. There were concerns about her bone density and nutrition, so she was given added nutrients on top of breast milk. They also got to start skin-to-skin contact, which Moriah says was really good for both her and Nora and Moriah. All of this happened before Nora was even four weeks old. 

Nora stayed at Cox for four more months and finally got to go home on September 16, six days before her due date. Despite all the uncertainty, Moriah remained positive and had faith that Nora would heal and survive. She credits part of that to Eccher’s patience. “He did a very good job of explaining what was happening and why,” she says. “It’s a lot to take in during a rough emotional state.” But Eccher knows being a NICU doctor is often as much about taking care of the parents as it is taking care of babies. Helping parents and babies through one of the most difficult times in their lives is why Eccher got into the field in the first place. “What we do influences a life for 70 years,” he says. “It has a ripple effect. It’s not just their life, but all the people they influence throughout their life.” 


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