Respiratory Therapy Services

Newborns—and their families—can breathe easier thanks to the programs and discoveries made at Colorado Institute for Maternal & Fetal Health. Premature and ill newborns often face breathing challenges from the onset as their lungs are not fully developed. From apnea—an interruption in normal breathing patterns—to persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN)—which occurs when there is high pressure in the lungs—the neonatal intensive care units (NICU) at University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado provide cutting-edge care that is revolutionizing the way NICUs around the world address respiratory problems. The Neonatal ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado provides state-of-the-art respiratory and cardiac support to newborns and is one of only a few ECMO Centers of Excellence in the nation. Moreover, the discovery of using nitric oxide for PPHN at University of Colorado Hospital emphasizes its commitment to transforming initial findings into industry standards.

Inhaled Nitric Oxide for PPHN at University of Colorado Hospital NICU

In 1991, Dr. Steven Abman and Dr. John Kinsella, both leading pediatric physicians and professors at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and their research teams discovered a better solution to addressing PPHN – low doses of inhaled nitric oxide.

Affecting roughly 1 in 1,700 newborns per year, PPHN occurs when the newborn’s blood circulation does not occur properly, creating high blood pressure in the lungs that forces blood and oxygen away from the lungs. Prior to Drs. Abman and Kinsella’s discoveries, PPHN was traditionally treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation ECMO—a treatment that provides heart-lung support for ill newborns. ECMO is an invasive procedure and does not directly address the disease, while other treatments carry numerous side affects as they permeate into the bloodstream.

Drs. Abman and Kinsella discovered that low doses of nitric oxygen relaxed the blood vessels in the lungs without inhibiting other areas of the bloodstream and creating adverse side effects. Using nitric oxide also eliminated the need to use ECMO.

Drs. Abman and Kinsella’s discovery originated out of a clear need for a better solution to treating PPHN. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1999, inhaled nitric oxide is now the industry standard, drastically reducing the use of ECMO and increasing the survival rates of newborns with PPHN.

The discovery, testing, and approval of using inhaled nitric oxide is a perfect example of Colorado Institute for Maternal & Fetal Health’s commitment to not only treating critical issues of the present, but also to unearthing better, more effective treatments for generations to come.