photography by: Jordan Weiland

Your child needs care? Lakeland’s got you covered.

Katie Ash was 27 weeks pregnant with her second child in May 2008, but Liam wasn’t moving. One terrifying week later, Liam was born, weighing a mere 2 pounds 4 ounces. He remained in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center but needed a high-frequency ventilator to breathe, something not found in Polk County.

He was flown by helicopter to Tampa for care, leaving behind his parents and two-year-old sister. The Ashes drove to Tampa to be with their newborn, leaving their daughter in the care of others or hiring someone to watch her at the hospital while her parents tended to Liam. After two weeks, Liam returned to the Lakeland NICU.

It was a stressful time, Katie Ash said. “They didn’t even allow children there,” she said about the Tampa hospital.

Having a child treated in Tampa or Orlando was the norm, but it doesn’t have to be any longer. On June 15, Lakeland Regional Health opened the $275 million Carol Jenkins Barnett Pavilion for Women & Children so critically ill children up to age 18 can be treated at the only Level III NICU in Polk County.

“Just to have that available here — a private room, a higher level of care — he wouldn’t have had to leave,” Katie Ash said. Here, “Families can come visit and not be on top of each other.”

Now nine, Liam is doing great, without any lingering effects from his low heart rate before birth, his parents said.

The pavilion houses millions of dollars of state-of-the-art specialty equipment, increased security, stations to prevent germs, and much more. But you also feel the special touches designed to soothe children who are hurting.

The letters spelling Children’s Emergency at one entrance are built in colorful blocks. Inside, artwork by two women with local ties adorn the entryways while colorful, peaceful photos can be found in rooms.

Women can also receive specialized obstetric care there.

“The pavilion was built by the community for the community, meaning that community members’ input was utilized in the design phase of the pavilion,” said Joyce Arand, the associate vice president for Women’s and Children’s Services.

In addition, the community helped “make the vision a reality,” Arand said.

Barnett, the daughter of Publix Founder George Jenkins, contributed millions to the project, but many other people also donated, and the hospital recently kicked off a public campaign to raise $5 million to “accomplish all its goals,” LRH President Elaine Thompson said.

No longer are babies born in a sterile room then whisked off to a nursery. Here, mothers give birth in their rooms, and their babies stay with them. Spouses can spend the night on fold-out couches.

“The pavilion was well-planned to include plenty of space for patients and their families,” Arand said. “When caring for a newborn or a pediatric patient, we are caring for the whole family unit. In the pavilion, we have space to accommodate family members who are essential to the well-being of the patient.”

Maybe your children are grown and you have no plans for more. But there’s still reason to care about this eight-story, 350,000-square-foot gem just north of downtown Lakeland.

“The pavilion is integral to Lakeland and Polk County because infant health is often used as an indicator to measure the health and well-being of a community,” Arand said. “By increasing the availability of certain services, such as expert and specialized pediatric and obstetrical care, right in our own community, we are optimistic that the health of our infants and children, and therefore our community, will only improve.”