Utah hospital's webcam connects deployed father with infant son

Half a world away, John Girtman – stationed with the US Air Force – can keep a watchful eye on his infant son in the neonatal intensive care unit in Utah's Timpanogos Regional Hospital thanks to new webcam technology.

Jeffrey D. Allred/The Deseret News/AP
John Carter Girtman sleeps at Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem, Utah, on March 23. New webcam technology has allowed his deployed father to check in on the infant from overseas.

Mary Girtman's family is being stretched in all directions, with her husband deployed overseas and her infant son spending his days and nights in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Timpanogos Regional Hospital, but she prefers to find the silver lining in their situation. 

Thanks to some fresh video technology available to families whose infants are staying in the NICU at the Orem hospital her husband can peek in on his son at any time.

And with John Girtman stationed with the US Air Force halfway around the world, their disjointed schedules are a blessing in disguise, enabling their son to be under the loving watch of a parent around the clock, even overnight.

"It is a pretty big time difference, so usually when I'm sleeping [my husband] is working," Mary Girtman said. "It kind of keeps us checking on him 24/7. During the day I'm here [and] while I'm sleeping my husband's checking on him."

The long-distance virtual visits with 7-week-old John Carter Girtman are made possible via a camera at his bedside that transmits livestream video to any family member with a password and internet connection. The camera is invaluable to any parent missing their NICU baby while away from the hospital, Mary Girtman said, but particularly for a faraway dad who is unable to make visits at all.

"I think it's especially comforting to him because we're not able to talk as much as we would like ... but for him to be able to see [his son] through a camera I think takes the stress off him a little bit, just to see that [his son] is OK," she said.

The infant spent most of the first month of his life in the NICU at Primary Chlidren's Hospital.

"He's doing really good. He's made huge improvements the last couple weeks," Mary Gitman said. 

She says staying by his side as much as possible while also caring for her 19-month-old daughter Maley can make for some long days, particularly without her husband.

"It's definitely crazy," she said. "I find myself trying to split up my days between the two of them. I really just rely on the doctors and the nurses. There they just keep reassuring me I'm doing the best I can and [that] I'm doing great and everything I'm feeling is OK and normal."

That same Timpanogos Regional Hospital staff, which has been honored in recent years over proposals about how to keep NICU babies and their parents connected, used a $25,000 grant in March 2017 to purchase and install the technology.

The passwords allowing access to the livestream are given only to parents, who can then distribute it to family members and loved ones as they see fit, Timpanogos Regional Hospital spokesman Mike Graul explained last year.

Before her son began staying at Timpanogos Regional, the family used FaceTime, but doing so felt more intrusive to other families who are "there to spend time with their sick babies," Mary Girtman said, particularly during the middle of the night when her husband was available. Plus, she said, using FaceTime meant she herself had to be at the hospital during those overnight hours.

"That takes one [more] stress off of me to [not] feel I need to be at the hospital at a certain time," she said.

Though Mary Girtman isn't nearly as far from her son, it can hurt to be without him, something the webcams help alleviate.

"When I am at home and when I'm out with my daughter or whatever, I can always check with him. As a new mom, you're always worrying about your kids and realistically I can't be there all the time," she said.

She also credited her parents, whom she is living with during her husband's deployment, for helping her keep everything together during her journey through unusual circumstances.

She looks forward to her son's full recovery and to the day when the whole family is together again in a few months. She couldn't disclose her husband's location or precisely when he returns, which she said is considered sensitive information. But in the meantime, with the help of some livestreaming where needed, she and her family are focused on appreciating the togetherness they do get to enjoy.

"To be completely honest, if I look at it as the full time he's going to be gone ... it's really hard. But if we just focus on what [we] need to do that day – and remember [that] I'm doing it for my family, and ultimately for my country – that gets us through the hard days and helps."

This story was reported by the Desert News.

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