Smallest premature infant from 1942 celebrates 75th birthday

Caring for premature and low birth weight infants has significantly changed over the past 75 years. When a nurse practitioner from Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) recently met a patient from 1942, these amazing details were brought to life – and are a reminder of the remarkable advances that have been made in premature infant care.

Calvin Lepp was born on January 5, 1942 weighing one and three-quarter pounds. At the time, he was Minneapolis General Hospital’s smallest surviving premature infant. A local newspaper learned of Lepp, covered his progress while he was hospitalized, and then ran a feature story about him when he was finally discharged in May of that year.

“I don’t remember much of it,” jokes Lepp, “but they tell me it was a miracle surviving as img_0796small as I was. The odds were against me, but I turned out just fine. Got over that weight problem real quick.”

Lepp is a regular at Eden Prairie’s Tavern 4&5, where he met HCMC Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Kolleen Amon, who works in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU).

“Cal is such a character at the tavern – he even has his own spot with his ‘Cal’s Corner’ street sign,” Amon explains. One evening, Lepp was talking to Amon about his wife who passed away from breast cancer. He mentioned how amazing the nurses were who took care of her.

“I told him I was a Nurse Practitioner in HCMC’s NICU, and to my surprise he shared that he was the smallest baby ever saved by HCMC, which of course was Minneapolis General Hospital back in 1942.”


Original newspaper clipping of “Medicine Dropper Baby” from 1942 (Photo courtesy of Star Tribune)

Lepp brought in a copy of the newspaper article from that year which included a photo of him with his nurse on the day he was discharged. The article summarized some of the unique aspects of his care.  Amon and her NICU colleagues were intrigued to learn about the standard interventions used to save Lepp’s life – even though they are no longer used today. At the time they were considered “best practices,” and Minneapolis General Hospital already had a reputation for having one of the lowest newborn mortality rates in the country.

Some examples include of Lepp’s care included:

Formula feedings via a medicine dropper
For weeks, Lepp was given formula feedings from a medicine dropper. Today, preterm babies are fed breast milk through an indwelling tube inserted in the mouth or nose down to the stomach. In addition, the article states that “Lepp received only one-sixth of an ounce of breast milk for weeks.” HCMC strongly supports the use of breast milk for preterm infants with lactation services for all mothers to provide breast milk and to breast feed at discharge. With what we know today, receiving mother’s milk may have been the most important factor in Cal’s survival.

Life in an oxygen tent
Studies now show that oxygen in high doses can be harmful to babies. Lepp had vision issues from receiving too much oxygen – but that was the standard of care for premature infants in 1942. We now have state-of-the-art isolettes that allow ambient oxygen to flow through the isolette.  We have the ability to give oxygen directly to the baby through respiratory support devices and protocols in place to determine the correct amount of oxygen to deliver to a baby based on their needs.

Frequent administration of respiratory and cardiac stimulants
A “dozen times” General Hospital physicians all but gave (Lepp) up. His tiny body actually “turned black” on these occasions. Now, with artificial surfactant to prepare lungs for the world, we are able to prevent many of respiratory problems that are caused from prematurity and ventilation support. Now we use caffeine – the same thing in coffee – to help prevent preterm babies from stopping breathing.

“It is amazing he survived,” explains Dr. Connie Adkisson, medical director of HCMC’s NICU. “But 75 years from now someone may read an article about our standards of care and wonder the same thing.”

So what about the future of premature infant care?

“Antibiotic stewardship comes to mind,” says Dr. Adkisson. “At HCMC, we are already implementing procedures to reduce the amount of antibiotics given to premature and term babies because research has shown that excessive use of antibiotics can increase childhood asthma, lead to antibiotic resistance, and allows growth of less healthy bacteria in the baby’s gastrointestinal tract.”

HCMC NICU “graduates” of all ages and their families are invited to a 75th birthday party for Cal Lepp at HCMC on Wednesday, January 25 from 2-4 PM. A historical look at the advances in premature care, as well as activities and refreshments will also mark the occasion.

Strategically located next to HCMC’s Birth Center, our 21-bed Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) has a comprehensive team of specialists available around the clock to care for infants who need intensive care.


Read the Star Tribune article from January 25, 2017.





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HCMC launches clinical trial to treat brain injury using vagus nerve stimulation

“Electroceutical” Treatment Hopes to Stimulate Brain Healing Without Medications


Dr. Molly Hubbard, lead investigator of the VANISH TBI study examines a 3D hologram of the injured patient’s brain. The image was generated by Dr. Abdullah Bin Zahid in the HCMC Brain Injury Research Laboratory.

A simple slip on the ice while crossing a parking lot in downtown Minneapolis triggered the problem for 47-year-old John Doe (not his real name). By the time emergency medical personnel arrived he knew his own name, but did not remember falling, the date, or even where he was.  “I didn’t even know what had happened until I had been in the hospital for three days,” he said.

Brought into Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), John had classic brain injury, with tiny amounts of blood on the surface of his brain and interspersed into its folds. Radiology studies were consistent with brain trauma, but the injury was not severe enough to require surgery. Several days after the accident he moved into the brain injury rehabilitation unit at HCMC.

“I’m still trying to figure out how to get back to my normal life. It’s … hard to believe that this is my life. A lot of symptoms are starting to get better but they’re still there. I have problems remembering words,” said John, who works as a professional writer.

Luckily for John, HCMC, in conjunction with the University of Minnesota, has just launched a new clinical trial to treat brain injury, and he was the second patient to be enrolled.  He remarked, “I really like the idea of being able to help others with brain injury; maybe even help people who have it worse off than me.” Continue reading

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Comprehensive Cancer Center receives national accreditation for breast cancer care

HCMC’s Comprehensive Cancer Center was recently fully accredited by the American College of Surgeons National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC). This means they meet the highest standards of care for patients with diseases of the breast.

“Without everyone working to provide quality care to our patients we would not have been able to attain this accreditation,” said Practice Manager Kelly Ann Porter RN, BS, OCN, CHPN.

To achieve NAPBC accreditation, the Comprehensive Cancer Center underwent a rigorous evaluation and review of performance and compliance with the NAPBC standards. To maintain accreditation, an on-site review must be repeated every three years.

The Comprehensive Cancer Center is committed to providing the finest in cancer-related services through an integrated system of health and social services. The continuum of care extends from prevention, diagnosis, treatment, symptom control, and cure, through all related aspects of adjustment to relapse, survivorship, and bereavement counseling.



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Carbon monoxide poisoning risk increases as temperature decreases

Girl holding a book by the fireplace

Carbon monoxide – odorless, colorless, and tasteless – is a deadly hazard all year round but it becomes a particular threat during cold weather because space heaters, furnaces, and stoves are used more often. The Minnesota Poison Control System is reminding all Minnesotans that the risk of dangerous exposures to carbon monoxide may increase in the upcoming months but these exposures can be prevented.

All fuel-burning equipment and appliances create the risk for carbon monoxide, including water heaters, gas furnaces, wood and gas fireplaces, generators, and automobile engines. At its mildest, carbon monoxide poisoning can feel a little like the flu – causing headaches, dizziness, exhaustion, confusion, fainting, and vomiting. Continue reading

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Newborns at HCMC get a new ride

Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) recently welcomed a special delivery of 60 brand new bassinets for its newest patients. HCMC is the first hospital in the Twin Cities to carry the Nära Bassinet made by Stryker (“Nära” means “near” in Swedish), with features that are designed to keep moms and babies as close as possible.

The hospital’s 10-15 year old bassinets were replaced thanks to a grant from Hennepin Health Foundation to encourage a safe, close postpartum bonding experience between moms and newborns.

“The height of the bassinet can be adjusted, and it has safety and storage features that make this a great choice for our patients,” explains Noah Pardo, RN, nurse manager of NICU/PICU/Pediatrics at HCMC. “Moms are really appreciating the ergonomic properties and simple design.”


Thelma Lee and Ziya

New moms like Thelma Lee agree.

“They are so nice,” she commented when baby Ziya was the first newborn to check out the new bassinet.

Its soft-edge tilting basket that’s secured to the base of the bassinet provides access and visibility to the infant for not only mom – but caregivers as well. The convenient storage drawers beneath the basket stay in place when turning. The steer-locking, soft-wheel casters keep baby rolling smoothly and quietly.

“Mom’s arms are the most comforting, secure place for our newborns, and these bassinets are the safest way to get them there. We’re so pleased to offer the latest technology for who no one can disagree — are our cutest patients,” said Pardo.


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HCMC receives Prevention Care Recognition Award

Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) recently received the Prevention Care Recognition Award from HealthPartners’ Partners in Quality Program. The award recognizes primary care and specialty groups for making major changes to their current processes resulting in persistent, sustainable change for preventive care screening improvement.

The award was based on the process and performance improvement work currently being done at HCMC’s East Lake Clinic through a practice facilitation grant in partnership with the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI) and Stratis Health. The clinic focused on the process for caring for adults and children with asthma and how they could improve interventions.

“The goal of our work was to implement changes in our processes so that patients with asthma could receive seamless care and avoid complications,” said Gao Vang, Health Care Quality Improvement Coordinator at East Lake Clinic. “This work was a comprehensive team effort and we’re so pleased to be recognized with this award.”

Vang and the East Lake clinical staff members played an instrumental part that have led to improved clinical processes and ultimately, improved patient outcomes. There is an extension of the grant that will bring these changes to HCMC’s Brooklyn Center and Golden Valley Clinics in coming months.


Left to right: Jairo Molina, Gao Vang, Dr. Ndidiamaka N. Koka, Janeth Guerra De Patino

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Psychiatry Family Resource Center opens at HCMC

Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) now offers a place for anyone to receive information about mental health. The new Psychiatry Family Resource Center, funded by the generosity of guests who attended Hennepin Health Foundation’s 2015 Light Up the Night benefit, opens on November 1, 2016.

Located on the hospital’s Skyway Level next to its medical library, the Psychiatry Family Resource Center offers a welcoming space that includes:

  • Psychiatry-specific literature
  • Computer stations with web portal for easy access to online information
  • A DVD viewing area
  • An art piece by artist Vara Kamin
  • A volunteer-staffed welcome desk to greet and assist visitors

“It can be challenging to support loved ones living with a mental illness, navigating a complex system and finding the help and support needed,” explains Megen Coyne, RN, MS, senior director of psychiatry at HCMC. “Having this beautiful space where families and friends can find resources, share stories, and dispel myths around mental illness helps build a strong community of support for our patients.”image

Information regarding conditions, treatment options, current topics in mental health, local resources, and services available to patients and their families can be found in the Psychiatric Family Resource Center. All of the information provided has been chosen by health care professionals to make the search for reliable and accurate information easier.

An open house is planned for the public to view the Psychiatry Resource Center on Tuesday, November 1, 2016 from 2 to 6 PM. For more information about the psychiatry services offered at HCMC, go to

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