Parents’ Acute Illnesses, Hospitalizations, and Medication Changes During the Difficult First Year After Infant or Child NICU/PICU Death

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Abstract

Background and Objectives:

Infant/child death is described as a most stressful life event; however, there are few reports of effects on parent physical health during the first year after the death. The study’s purpose is to examine the patterns of parent acute illnesses, hospitalizations, and medication changes over 1 to 13 months after neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) infant/child death in 3 racial/ethnic groups.

Methods:

Secondary analyses were conducted with longitudinal data on parent health and functioning 1 to 13 months after infant/child NICU/PICU death. Parents (176 mothers, 73 fathers; 44% Hispanic, 35% black non-Hispanic, and 21% white non-Hispanic) of deceased infants/children were recruited from 4 children’s hospitals and state death records. Inclusion criteria—parents understood English or Spanish and had a deceased neonate/child ≤ 18. Exclusion criteria—deceased newborn from multiple gestation pregnancy, child in foster care, child’s injury due to suspected abuse, or parent death in illness/injury event. Parents reported numbers and types of acute illnesses, hospitalizations, and medication changes 1 to 13 months postdeath.

Results:

Parents’ acute illnesses, hospitalizations, and medication changes were greatest between months 1 and 6, with relative quiescence in months 7 to 10, and an increase in months 11 to 13. Mothers (aged 32 ± 7.8 years) reported 300 acute illnesses (primarily colds/flu, headaches, anxiety/depression, and infections) and 89 hospitalizations (primarily infections, chest pain, and gastrointestinal problems). Fathers (aged 37 ± 8.8 years) reported 104 acute illnesses (colds/flu and headaches) and 9 hospitalizations.

Conclusion:

After infant/child NICU/PICU death, mothers had greater morbidity than fathers, with no significant differences by race/ethnicity. Parents’ health needs to be monitored in months 1 to 6 and months 11 to 13, and interventions targeted to parents in these months.

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