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Connecting moms, newborns with Google Glass

Brigham & Women’s study will test whether Google Glass can help ease anxiety of parents temporarily separated from their infants

Stephanie Shine wore a Google Glass device.
Stephanie Shine wore a Google Glass device.(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)

All Stephanie Shine wanted was to hold her baby, as soon as he entered the world.

But Sam arrived more than three months early and was taken quickly to the newborn intensive care unit and attached to tubes and monitors, as doctors and nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital worked to keep him alive. Shine was stuck in her own hospital bed, sick with complications from her pregnancy.

“You should be the most important person in your baby’s life, but suddenly, you’re not involved,” she said.

The experience set Shine, who happens to be a nurse in the newborn ICU, where her son lived for 101 days, on a mission to minimize the pain of separation for other mothers whose babies are born prematurely or with other problems. Shine will begin a study Tuesday to test whether the technology of Google Glass, a hands-free, wearable computer, can help foster the precious bond between a mother and her child. The project is called Love at First Sight.

Hundreds of babies are separated from their mothers after birth at Brigham each year because one or both of them need immediate care. Shine wants those moms to see their newborns through the eyes of their partners: They will wear Google Glass while visiting the intensive care unit, and the images they see will stream live to a tablet computer in the mom’s hands.

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The mom will be able to hear the nurses talking about her baby and ask questions, as if she were in the room.

“I want to take this super-high-tech device and capture what could be thought of as one of the strongest and basic human connections there is,” said Shine, 31, who did not get to hold Sam until two weeks after his birth.

Shine and her colleagues are seeking 250 mothers to place in one of three study groups: One group will use Google Glass, another will use iPads to video-chat, and the third, a control group, will not use technology. Shine believes the use of Glass and iPads could help reduce maternal stress.

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Maternal stress is a big issue at the Brigham, which specializes in high-risk and premature births. Of the nearly 7,000 babies born there each year, about 1,000 go to the newborn ICU. The average stay is 22 days, but some infants stay for months. The experience takes its toll on parents; many leave the hospital anxious or depressed.

For moms who cannot touch and feel their babies right away, technology can help bridge the gap, said Dr. Terrie Inder, chairwoman of newborn medicine at the Brigham.

Off the shelf, Google Glass sells for $1,500. It can take photos and videos and access the Internet. Using software that keeps it secure and private, Glass is also being tested at several hospitals for a variety of other applications.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has equipped its emergency doctors with Glass, allowing them to access patient records while keeping their hands free. UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester is testing whether Glass can help doctors remotely diagnose toxicology problems.

“Based on the traction we’re seeing, Glass will become as prevalent as smartphones in health care delivery,” said Kyle Samani, chief executive of Pristine, an Austin, Texas, startup that makes software for Glass. Pristine has supplied Glass to 25 hospitals, including the Brigham.

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The Boston hospital already gives some patients iPads to help them connect with their babies. This relieved some of the stress that Kate Hazelton, 38, felt after she delivered twins at the Brigham in October. She was sick in her hospital bed while her girls, Caroline and Charlotte, were in intensive care. Her husband, Chris, held an iPad over the babies, while Kate watched from her bed. “Seeing her reaction, that was amazing,” Chris said. “Just a huge smile, relief, happiness and comfort.” But Chris Hazelton could not hold an iPad and a baby at the same time. This is where hands-free Google Glass can help. “Everything he sees, Mom sees,” Shine said.

Shine has never conducted research before. She never thought she would be writing proposals, pitching them to hospital administrators, and competing for grants.

Her idea was dismissed at first. But after she won the $500 prize at a Brigham pitch contest in June, hospital officials took her seriously. After several months, she received approval from all the right boards and departments at the Brigham and its parent company, Partners HealthCare.

The project is too personal for Shine to think about giving up. Though she was separated from 17-month-old Sam after his birth, her older son, Charlie, now 3½, was in her arms as soon as he was born. Shine wants more women to feel what she felt that day.

“It’s one of the most incredible moments of your life,” she said. “You feel like the mother.”

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Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com.