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"Pregnant Robot" to Provide Lessons on Childbirth

UVI nursing professional Meg Sheahan (foreground) demonstrating the simulator to Tina and David Beale.
UVI nursing professional Meg Sheahan (foreground) demonstrating the simulator to Tina and David Beale.

Learning how to deliver a baby properly can be a little intimidating, but UVI nursing students will now be able to get plenty of practice time before scrubbing up for the real thing, thanks to some newly donated equipment.

Each district's campus has received one Gaumard Scientific NOELLE Advanced Maternal and Neonatal Birthing Simulator, compliments of a grant from the Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation.

David Beale, the foundation’s executor, was on hand at a demonstration Monday to show off the simulator’s capabilities.

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In total, the simulators cost approximately $28,574, of which half was presented before nursing school staff went away to the mainland for an intense training class. The remainder was delivered Monday by Beale and his wife, Tina, who were taken step by step through the birthing process and a few of the scenarios nursing students will have to learn to deal with during their clinical trials.

Babies, for example, can be born in a variety of different positions, and it's imperative that the students know how to tell what's normal and what's not, said UVI assistant professor Dr. Marion Howard.

The simulator -- basically a life-sized pregnant robot -- is hooked up to fetal monitors, which measure things, such as the mother's and infant's heartbeat and temperature, so students will also be able to learn what to look and listen out for in case of an emergency.

One of the more interesting things Howard stressed was the importance of keeping the mother's bladder empty during labor -- another element that students can practice, using the inflatable bladder inside the mannequin's body. If the bladder isn't drained properly, it might cause a mother to be incontinent later on, since the baby's head pushes down on the organ as it comes out the birth canal, Howard explained.

"They need to know all the pitfalls, because at any point, it can be just you, the mom and the baby in the room," she said later. "So we want to stress careful monitoring, early intervention, and definitely emptying the bladder. Of course, you want to give them the good side, but you also want to be as realistic as possible."

The simulator then pushes out a seven-pound infant housed in the mannequin's belly, and students can also learn from that point about neonatal care, including how to handle the umbilical cord and placenta.

"The role of a nurse really comes in after delivery," said Meg Sheahan, who teaches maternal child health at UVI. "We really need to make sure the mother and the baby's needs are met, and we work with the students on developing their confidence in that role."

Sheahan said working with the simulator will help the students develop quick and safe responses to as many different situations as possible, and hopefully, will instill in them a love for this kind of work.

The simulator also comes with student and teacher manuals, including 11 different scenarios, said Dr. Cheryl Franklin, dean of UVI's school of nursing.

"This is really state-of-the-art equipment, rivaling that of any other medical school in the country," Franklin added later. "And it allows our students to get the same kind of experience, so we're very honored to be able to benefit from this kind of opportunity."

Established in 1992 by St. Croix native and world-renowned musician Claude A. "Bennie" Benjamin, the Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation has provided more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants and support of improved medical care for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Along with UVI, the foundation supports philanthropic projects at both of the territory's hospitals, including the Myrah Keating Smith community Health Center on St. John.

"This is helping to fulfill the dream of Bennie Benjamin," Beale said Monday as he presented the check to Franklin. "And we hope this equipment helps you train your students and deliver great babies for the Virgin Islands."

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