Most people who know me call me Bubba. The name you will find on a paper that just came out, is my “official” name, Brandon. However, my first given name is, in fact, Bubba, a moniker I acquired during my brief hospitalization as a premature infant, the very topic of my first first-author paper. Since my name’s origin story is rooted in the very topic of my paper (hospitals housing premature infants), I thought it appropriate to share.
On an icy winter afternoon in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after 35 weeks of gestation, the cohoused “bundles of joy” wanted out. Due to my brother’s awkward orientation in the uterus, the doctors recommended a cesarean section. I was the first to deliver. At five pounds, I was a healthy, screaming baby. Screaming in the cradle next to me a minute later was my little brother weighing in at just four pounds. A one pound difference may not seem like much, but there was something strange about the way our bodies distributed the difference. My brother had relatively normal proportions except for his lower leg, which was bent back to his knee. My developmental oddity came in my head-to-body ratio. My head was bulbous relative to my body and when compared to my brother’s, it was a monstrosity. My father, being the sensitive man he is, guffawed “It’s a Bubba head. It’s absolutely enormous!” And so the name was born.
The paper published this week has a cohort of infants much younger than my brother and me, and far smaller (less than 30 weeks and less than three pounds). Modern healthcare providers have become increasingly successful at delivering infants younger and at lower birth weights. Being so underdeveloped, many physicians administer antibiotics to aid the nascent immune system in its defense against pathogens. An assumption of our study is that many of the initial gut colonizers acquired during the birthing process are largely removed from the infant’s intestinal tract by antibiotics. We hypothesized that the hospital surfaces could be a potential reservoir for microbes to recolonize the gut. We found evidence to support this hypothesis and in our just-published pilot study.
To achieve the replication needed to better characterize our observations, the initial pilot has since been scaled up to a larger project. This includes an exciting collaboration with Professor Bill Nazaroff’s lab heading a new facet of the project characterizing real-time particle trends in the NICU. Stay tuned in 2014 for a follow up to this story. We have some very preliminary, and interesting, data that we hope to share at the upcoming Sloan conference in June.
On a final note, no need to worry about my brother’s bent leg or my melon head. He wore a cast on his leg for the first six months of life and healed well. In fact, he was one of the fastest athletes at our high school and now is a freshly minted Tulsa firefighter. My brother may argue I never outgrew my big head [figuratively] but most would agree I grew out of my baby Bubba big-head phase.