One might call James Opitz, MD, a founding father. In this case, it’s a founding father of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Children’s Hospital (MSJCH).
Opitz, a Marshfield Clinic neonatologist on staff at MSJCH, has practiced in Marshfield since 1969, not coincidentally, the same year the NICU was established.
“I got a call asking if I’d be interested in developing a perinatal center in Marshfield,” said Opitz. “At that time, Wisconsin was just becoming more regionalized in perinatal care and it was a good fit for me.”
Opitz spent time educating OB staff at more than 20 area hospitals about the new NICU and training them in infant CPR, delivery room management and newborn transport procedures. He also started and initially traveled with the transport team, implemented a follow-up program to track the progress of babies once they were discharged, and trained pediatricians who could cover for him while he was away.
“It was a lot of work, but all very dynamic and challenging,” he said. “At the same time we were recruiting physicians in pediatric subspecialists in areas such as cardiology, neurology, infectious disease, endocrinology, surgery and genetics, which drew even more patients. We also through the years recruited more neonatologists, eventually evolving into a staff of the five neonatologists we have now.”
Opitz attended medical school at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, and completed his internship at St. Benedict’s Hospital, in Ogden, Utah. He completed his residency in pediatrics at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and his fellowship in neonatology at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison. He also has continually taken advantage of month-long sabbaticals at prestigious children’s hospitals in Toronto, Denver and New York City, to study new neonatology techniques and technology.
The past decade has brought many changes in neonatology, he added. Technology such as high frequency ventilators, nitric oxide therapy for pulmonary hypertension, I-Stat to do lab work at the bedside and during transport, and bubble nasal CPAP for respiratory support, has increased these small babies’ chances for survival and normal lives. Neonatal transport is now also done by helicopter as well as ground ambulance.
Opitz said the two main reasons for improved quality of care are the experienced, specially trained nursing staff, and constant peer review by fellow neonatologists, residents and nurses, who are all providing care to the same patients.