Former preemie returns to campus of her birth to help other tiny newborns

August 23, 2021
Dr. Ramin Eskandari and surgical technician Ashley You
Dr. Ramin Eskandari and surgical technician Ashley Yoh were taking care of a baby when she told the surgeon something that amazed him. Photo by Sarah Pack

When Ashley Yoh first arrived at MUSC Children’s Hospital in 1986, she was a tiny, fragile baby, born at just six months gestation after a head-on collision caused her mother to start hemorrhaging. Yoh spent four months in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, growing and getting strong enough to go home.

Today, Yoh is a cheerful, confident surgical tech, working with preemies as vulnerable as she once was, in the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital

“It's still surreal to me that I am here at MUSC and helping at the same place where I was,” she said.

Surgical technician Ashley Yoh as a premature baby in the hospital. 
Yoh spent her first four months in the hospital.

Yoh’s remarkable journey from preemie to health care professional came up during a conversation with pediatric neurosurgeon Ramin Eskandari. “I've known her for a while,” he said. “What I always remembered about her is that literally she's smiling and laughing no matter what's going on.”

“Whenever I work with surgeons, I like to make small talk,” Yoh said.

And that’s what she was doing one memorable day. “We rolled the patient in — a little preemie baby with intraventricular hemorrhage. That’s bleeding that has caused the brain to be under pressure. So we were implanting a little device that we can remove the fluid from their brain with, intermittently,” Eskandari said.

“The baby was a 24-weeker,” Yoh said. “So I was asking Dr. Eskandari about the patient. And then, I was like, ‘Well, fun fact. Back in the '80s, I was actually born at six months gestation, and I lived at MUSC for about four months.’”

“To think that almost 30 years ago, that she would have been born 24 weeks and is now thriving is quite impressive,” Eskandari said. 

“That's amazing. It literally stopped me in my tracks, so to speak, and I couldn’t believe it. And I said, ‘Where were you born?’ And she said, ‘Right here.’  And I said, ‘There's no way, are you kidding me? This is so cool that you're here helping a patient that's a 24-week preemie baby. And you were a 24-week preemie.’ Back then, survival was actually questionable.”

Headshot of Dr. Eskandari 
Dr. Ramin Eskandari

Yoh said treatments for preemies have advanced dramatically since then. “It's so funny because when I look back on it, when I was born, they actually had these rubber gloves inside the incubators. People were only allowed to touch the babies with rubber gloves. There was no skin-to-skin contact, because they were so afraid of germs and infections. Medically, we have come so far, technology-wise.”

Today, the neonatal intensive care unit in the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital serves newborns from throughout the state as a designated regional perinatal center. It’s one of two sites in South Carolina that offer heart-lung bypass for babies with severe cardiorespiratory failure. 

“We've gotten a lot of evidence in the literature over the years of how best we can manage these babies. So we're trying to utilize that evidence, including the evidence from our own research labs,” Eskandari said.

“Our protocol is very different than what a lot of other places do. We tend to be more aggressive upfront with the babies’ treatment. We found that the earlier you do certain procedures, the better the chance they’ll have good long-term outcomes.” 

Yoh wants the parents of other preemies to know that good things can lie ahead. “Please don't ever give up. Just fight with everything that you have and trust the medical path,” she said. 

“Medicine has come so far and there are so many high-tech, innovative things out there that can help your child. The survival right now for premature babies is so much higher than it was back in the '80s. I would just definitely tell them to trust Jesus and trust your medical staff and know that there are people like me out in the world that made it 35 years ago. And your child can have a fulfilled, loving, healthy life.”

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