Family Donates Specialized Ventilator for Newborns

July 13, 2001
News Office: Laurie Itow (415) 353-4948

The Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery at UCSF Medical Center will receive a new specialized ventilator for newborns -- called a high-frequency oscillator -- thanks to the parents of former patient Alex Rittenberry. Kelly and Bryan Rittenberry are donating $18,000 in memory of their son, born Jan. 11 at the medical center.

Alex died six weeks later due to a birth defect called a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. When this condition occurs, the diaphragm does not develop completely, creating a hole in the muscle between the chest and abdomen. While the infant is still in the womb, the hole allows the stomach, intestines, liver, spleen and kidneys to move into the chest and prevents the lungs from developing correctly.

When Kelly Rittenberry's obstetrician discovered the baby's condition, she and her husband Bryan began their search for the best hospital to deliver their child. After learning of UCSF's Fetal Treatment Program, the couple traveled from Austin, Tex., to San Francisco, where they spent a month waiting for Alex's birth and then another six weeks while Alex was in intensive care.

Soon after Alex was born, he required the help of the oscillator to breathe. "Alex was so dependent on the oscillator. We understand that it's a kinder way to ventilate babies and it bought him more time when we had hope that he would survive," Kelly Rittenberry said. To express their appreciation to the staff in the nursery -- especially to Alex's team of nurses, Dr. Shannon Hamrick and respiratory therapist Den Harvey -- the Rittenberrys created a memorial fund to purchase a new oscillator.

Currently, the medical center has only two of the machines. When the nursery is full, there are times when the staff must decide who is treated with the oscillators and who is treated with conventional ventilators.

Kelly's brother Billy Culhane created and manages the Alexander P. Rittenberry Memorial Fund, which has drawn hundreds of checks, most of them $10 to $25 each as well as those for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Donors include four companies, including American Airlines, the employer of Kelly Rittenberry's father; Bryan Rittenberry's employer Dionex Corp.; Kelly Rittenberry's employer, the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld; and Sensormedics, the manufacturer of the oscillator, which is donating the tax, installation and delivery charge of the machine or about $4,000 worth of payment and services.

The medical center is providing $8,000 to cover the remaining cost of the $26,000 machine. Julio Barba, manager of the Respiratory Care Service and Clinical Engineering, said the medical center is extremely grateful for the Rittenberry's generous donation that will benefit patients, parents and staff for years to come. Donations to the fund may be sent to the Alexander P. Rittenberry Memorial Fund, in care of Billy Culhane, 22422 Sam's Drive, Edmond, Okla., 73003.