HARLINGEN — Jaelyn White is fine — now.

But she wasn’t in such good shape when she was born premature late last year. Fortunately, the nurses at the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen knew exactly what to do.

“It was very frightening,” said her mother Jessica White. “She’s my first child. It was very unexpected, not really knowing what to expect or going through anything like that.”

The doctors and nurses at the NBICU have long hours of skilled training and practice to care for babies like Jaelyn. Many of them are premature babies born as early as 22 weeks — the normal gestation period is 40.

“We have very small premature babies. We have babies with respiratory issues, genetic issues, anything that could possibly be wrong with a baby,” said Rita Goodarzi, director of the NBICU.

It’s the only Level III unit of its kind in Harlingen.

Yesterday afternoon about six or seven babies lay curled up in blankets in incubators. Two twin boys wore eye shades while a photo therapy light shined on them to treat their jaundice. They had feeding tubes and machines to help them breathe. Their chests moved quickly, strongly, as if making clear their determination to survive. Two nurses worked steadily with each baby, some restless and a bit annoyed, others dozing quietly.

“We offer any support they need, whether it’s respiratory support, medication,” Goodarzi said. “If they need surgery we send them to Driscoll Children’s Hospital. We offer any kind of specialty care.”

One of the treatments the nurses and doctors provide babies is the simple use of the mother’s milk, Goodarzi said.

“We use a breast milk fortifier to add calories to either donor breast milk or the mother’s breast milk,” she said. “We try to keep babies on an exclusive breast milk diet, especially for premature babies. It protects their gut, it protects their brain, and it boosts their immune system. So we treat breast milk almost like medication.”

The most common issue for babies coming into the NBICU is respiratory ailments, she said.

“Their lungs are not developed if they are premature,” Goodarzi said. “One thing we do is provide surfactant therapy. It helps the alveoli, the little air sacs in the lungs, to stay open. Without surfactant they collapse, and it’s very hard to get them open. The lungs will get stiff.”

The staff at NBICU must be ready for anything at anytime.

“We always have to be prepared for any emergency,” Goodarzi said. “Emergencies can come from labor and delivery; they can come from the C-section room; they can come from the emergency room. We also get babies from Harlingen Medical Center.”

Maintaining such an operation requires lots of planning and organization, and that’s where Aubree Robinette comes in. As charge nurse, she has a variety of duties such as setting assignments for who will look after which baby.

“We determine how sick they are,” Robinette said. “If the baby’s super sick, it’ll be consider a one to one, one baby, one nurse. Most of the time, the most that nurses take is three babies at one time because they need more care.”

She often goes out to pick up babies for transport to the NBICU.

“I go to delivery whether it’s Labor and Delivery that calls me, I attend all C-sections,” she said. “I’ll also go and transport from Harlingen Medical Center.”

She also keeps everything organized for the day.

“I check all of our supplies, make sure we have everything we need for the day,” she said. “I report to my boss for any issues, handling any parent issues. I also care for babies. Sometimes I need to take on assignments.”

Jessica White is thankful for all the work the staff of NBICU puts in to maintaining its operations.

“I felt very, very confident in the care that the nurses gave my daughter Jaelyn,” she said. “I felt very comfortable being able to say, ‘Hey you know what, I’m going home. I’m leaving my child in the care of someone else, a nurse and a physician that was there.’”

Jaelyn spent four months in the NBICU before being discharged in February. She’s now at home and thriving.

What babies are treated in Level III NICU?

Infants born at less than 32 weeks and weigh less than 3.3 pounds, as well as critically ill newborns.

What capabilities do Level III NICUs have?

• Continuous life support and comprehensive care

• Critical medical and surgical care

• Mechanical ventilation and high-frequency mechanical ventilation

• Minor surgical procedures

What staff does a Level III NICUs have?

• Physicians such as pediatric hospitalists and neonatologists

• Specialists such as respiratory therapists, imaging technologists, registered nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, lactation consultants and social workers.