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L+M Physician Friday -- Dr. Brett Citarella

Meet another member of the L+M medical staff each Physician Friday.

Dr. Brett Citarella knows that other doctors feel as he does – that each tends to see their own area of expertise as uniquely satisfying both personally and professionally.

But, with that disclaimer, Dr. Citarella is proud to say that nothing is more rewarding and satisfying than the work he does in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.

Neonatology, he says, affects him deeply because he sees the most vulnerable of all human beings – premature and sick infants, some less than two pounds in size – who are struggling to gain the strength and maturity to survive on their own.

“Does it touch me every time? Yes,” he says. “It does.”

Beyond that fragile infant, Dr. Citarella is also in close contact with the parents of those tiny babies, trying to ease their fear and explain the details of an emotional and medical experience that is likely the most dramatic and worrisome that a new mom or dad has ever had to deal with.

That role of educating and comforting the parents is something that Dr. Citarella enjoys because he knows from experience that, in most cases, the baby is going to grow, get stronger and be healthy.

 “Probably the most rewarding thing is that process we go through with the family and the understanding they come to,” Dr. Citarella says. “It means so much to me when they see that this isn’t going to be as bad as they expected. And then comes the moment when they realize that this might take a while, but things are going to be OK.”

Dr. Citarella grew up in New York, attended Holy Cross as an undergraduate, and went to medical school SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY. He trained in pediatric medicine at Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania, then came back to New York for fellowship training in neonatology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

Knowing that he wanted to stay in the northeast, Dr. Citarella jumped at the opportunity to come to L+M’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit when the luck of timing presented a position following his fellowship. But there were other factors that made L+M an attractive option.

“Part of it was the uniqueness of what we have here,” Dr. Citarella says. “We have a community hospital with a high-level neonatal intensive care unit, which is unique.

“Also,” he explains, “L+M has allowed all the neonatologists here to also work part time at Yale, and to be on the staff at Yale as well. The benefit of that is it keeps us in the academic environment and on the front lines of the latest and greatest things in the world of neonatology. And, it allows us then to bring that knowledge and skill back to our little corner of southeastern Connecticut. It’s another one of the unique parts of what our NICU has to offer.”

The NICU at L+M – the only one in all of eastern Connecticut – can handle most cases of premature and sick babies, Dr. Citarella says, but another advantage of L+M’s close relationship with Yale is that infants with the most acute conditions can be transported to Yale with a continuity of care.

“It reassures parents,” he says.

L+M’s NICU typically handles all babies born after 28 weeks gestation, and/or with a weight of about 1 kilo or more, which is about two pounds. Length of stay for a NICU patient typically ranges from 4 to six weeks, but, for a baby at 28 weeks gestation, a stay could last for several months.

“We tell parents that their baby was supposed to go home on their due date, so, if they’re six weeks early, they might be in the hospital for six weeks,” Dr. Citarella says.

A majority of the babies in L+M’s NICU are born prematurely, although some are sick from mother’s who have had substance abuse issues.

“It can be hard on the baby,” Dr. Citarella says, “but we have medicine to help them through their withdrawal. These babies can be a little bit more irritable, but they can also be consoled just like non-exposed babies, and it may just mean they need to be wrapped more or held more, so there are non-pharmacological ways to help these babies, too.”

Dr. Citarella knew early in his medical career that he wanted to work with children. “In most pediatric cases, we’re usually working to make something go away. I like that concept.”

He chose neonatology because “I realized I enjoyed being in the hospital more than in the outpatient field, and neonatology was the thing I enjoyed the most. Neonatology takes that concept that ‘we are going to fix you’ to the extreme. Most of our patients get over what brought them to the ICU, and they get better and they go home, and it’s a feeling of accomplishment that you were able to help the baby and also the family get through what was first perceived as unthinkable circumstances.

 “I see other physicians taking care of other patient populations, but, this is definitely what’s right for me, Dr. Citarella says. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

To learn more about Dr. Citarella, click here.

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