When Abby and Dan Schaaf's newborn son was admitted to the neonatal-intensive care unit, they were, as any parents in that situation would be, worried.

But a piece of technology put them a little more at ease.

The Highland couple used the NICU2Home app developed at the facility where their son, Winston, was a patient: Chicago's Northwestern Medicine Prentice Women's Hospital. The app kept them updated on Winston's condition even if they couldn't be at the hospital, and provided them with medically accurate information on his condition.

"When we were first in the NICU, they said we shouldn't Google anything. It was scary for us," said Abby Schaaf, a 33-year-old graphic designer. "To have a place (to look for information) that was safe, and know what was going on in the NICU and with his development, was really valuable to us."

The app was created by a Northwestern professor and has been offered to some families at the NICU as part of a clinical trial looking into its efficacy. Hospital officials say that it's been a success and plan to roll it out soon across the whole unit.

"The goal is to, once they're satisfied with the technology and the way it's working, is potentially allow this app to be used in hospitals across the country," said Mike Borders, board president for Friends of Prentice, which provided more than half a million dollars to launch the app. Being in the NICU "can be a stressful time. Anything that relieves that stress on families is terrific."

The Schaaf's say it did for them, after Abby's water broke unexpectedly last Easter, when she was only 26 weeks pregnant.

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She was admitted to the hospital and gave birth to Winston, the couple's first child, 10 days later.

"The first week was crazy," Abby said.

Then they were given the opportunity to use the app. Abby said it allowed them to more easily track who Winston's nurses were, what medications he was on, what exactly his care plan entailed.

"At the end of his stay, we would log into the app each day to see if he gained weight the night before, to see if he learned how to eat. We would get a notification: 'He ate everything by mouth,'" Abby Schaaf said. "It was so nice to have when we couldn't be there all the time."

Winston was discharged Aug. 8, 99 days after his birth. He turns 6 months old Friday.

"He's doing really well now," Abby said. "He is settling in to being at home. I think it took him a while. His whole world changed by coming home, but he's great. He's doing real well."


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.