PREEMIE UPDATE: Richard Koulbanis

In our November edition of our Preemie Family newsletter we learned about the amazing Richard Koulbanis, a preemie born at 32 weeks in 1946, who was 5 lbs. at birth.

Read more in an update by this former preemie himself, Richard Koulbanis, Group Publisher & Editor in Chief of Neonatology Today.  

by Richard Koulbanis:

About 20 years ago, a friend of mine told me a funny story about her children, who were then 5 and 7 years old.  It seems that all the photos the two children had seen of their mother as a child (1940s and 1950s) were only in black and white. To them it meant that at one time, there was no color in the world, color had been nonexistent.  From then on, anytime the children asked their mother about her childhood, they would inquire, “Mom, when the world was in black and white….” The same can be said of neonatal intensive care units (NICU’s), because when I was born the world was in black and white, and there were no NICU’s.  According to Wikipedia, the first official modern NICU was established in 1961 at Vanderbilt University, eleven years after my birth (1).

I was born in 1946, two months premature in a small Rhode Island beach town. I guess I was a little too anxious to see the world, and could not wait until my scheduled arrival date; I’ve been like that ever since.  My parents were traveling from North Carolina to Boston, and stopped to visit my fraternal grandparents.  I must have decided the time was right, because instead of being born in Boston months later as planned, I decided that the little town of Westerly, Rhode Island, would be a nice place to make my entrance.  My Mother went to a local doctor who had been recommended to her.  The doctor had what he called a  “hospital,” and I use the term “hospital” very loosely. His “hospital” had one doctor, two floors, and one nurse; in reality, his hospital was nothing more than a big old house; I guess that was a bad sign right from the start.  The doctor, who has long since passed away, told my mother that I was premature, and would not make it.  He further told her that if she wanted to have me, she would have to walk up the stairs, on her own power, where I guess he had his patient rooms.  I never really knew where he received his medical license, but he obviously did not have an encouraging bedside manner to say the least.  I was born at 11:30 am, weighing 5 lb., later dropping to 3 lb.  I was jaundiced and had trouble breathing.  My mother figured that if I was going to have half a chance at life, she was going to have to take me to a real and better-equipped hospital, so she took me to her hometown 40 miles way in Newport, Rhode Island, where her two brothers were physicians, a cardiologist and a radiologist.  Still, there was no NICU there, but I received good care and survived.  If my Mother had not taken those steps, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this story.  Oddly, while I always knew I was premature, I just took it for granted, and never knew the details of my birth, or that I almost died, until my Mother told me a few years before she passed away in 2008.

“My Father and I (about 2 months old), proving that the world really was only in black and white when I was born.”

“My Father and I (about 2 months old), proving that the world really was only in black and white when I was born.”

I have been in publishing for almost 30 years, holding a number of positions in the field, but for the last 11 years my partners and I have published our own professional International medical newsletters in the fields of pediatric cardiology (Congenital Cardiology Today and neonatology (Neonatology Today  While subscriptions to the publications are for medical professionals only, we also publish our newsletters in PDF files on the web for anyone, professional or layperson, to read for free.

For you, the readers of Preemie Family, our publication, Neonatology Today, will be of most interest.  When I was born, no one knew what a NICU or a neonatologist was.  It would have been like asking in 1946, “What’s a smart-phone?” But things have changed today for preemies and parents of preemies, changes that allow life, where there would have been possible death. I was born in a one-man hospital, but now, many hospitals have NICUs.  You can even read about one such NICU and their approach in our publication, Neonatology Today, The article is entitled, “Millennium Neonatology: ‘Building for the Future,’” by James F. Padbury, MD and Barry Lester, PhD –  It’s about a modern NICU at Women & Infants Hospital, in Providence RI.  You may also be interested in reading about a support program from the March of Dimes that also appeared in Neonatology Today; it’s entitled, “NICU’s and March of Dimes Partner to Offer Support to Families across the Nation,” by Laura Miller, BA and Scott D. Berns, MD, MPH, FAAP –  Feel free to read any of the articles we have on our website, although many of the articles may be too physician-oriented for the average person to understand.

I was a preemie born in 1946 BN (“Before NICU’s”), so maybe I have a different perspective. For parents, having a preemie can be scary and very emotionally draining; but today, medicine has adopted to the crisis, and there are many medically credentialed professionals, websites, books (like The Preemie Parent’s Survival Guide to the NICU), newsletters, and even smartphone apps, which can give parents some sense of security, and ways to help them understand and cope.

If in 2013, you are a parent of a preemie, and you feel scared, imagine how my Mother felt back in 1946, sixty-seven years ago.  She was 22 years old, traveling and unexpectedly had a jaundiced baby two months early, a baby who then lost almost half his body weight, delivered by a doctor, who had already made up his mind the baby was going to die, in a medical facility primitive in comparison to today.  Frightened, she knew that the probability of a good outcome was low.  While I am not minimizing anyone’s fears, concerns or questions, at least today there are resources for information, and neonatal facilities, physicians and staff, who can provide you and your preemie the best possible care.

I will leave you with one last thought – think of us preemies as tough and adventuresome.  We have to be, because we are a bit too anxious to be born and see the big-wide world before we, or our parents, are ready for the “blessed event.”

Richard Koulbanis (2013)

Richard Koulbanis (2013)




Richard Koulbanis

Group Publisher & Editor-in-Chief

Congenital Cardiology Today

Neonatology Today

CHD Video

Email: [email protected]


Key Personnel for Congenital Cardiology Today and Neonatology Today:

Tony Carlson, Founder & President

Richard Koulbanis, Group Publisher & Editor-in-Chief

John W. Moore, MD, MPH (Medical Editor)

Congenital Cardiology Today Editorial Board: Teiji Akagi, MD; Zohair Al Halees, MD;  Mazeni Alwi, MD; Felix Berger, MD; Fadi Bitar, MD; Jacek Bialkowski, MD;  Mario Carminati, MD; Anthony C. Chang, MD, MBA; John P. Cheatham, MD; Bharat Dalvi, MD, MBBS, DM; Horacio Faella, MD; Yun-Ching Fu, MD; Felipe Heusser, MD; Ziyad M. Hijazi, MD, MPH; Ralf Holzer, MD; Marshall Jacobs, MD; R. Krishna Kumar, MD, DM, MBBS; John Lamberti, MD; Gerald Ross Marx, MD; Tarek S. Momenah, MBBS, DCH; Toshio Nakanishi, MD, PhD; Carlos A. C. Pedra, MD; Daniel Penny, MD, PhD; James C. Perry, MD; P. Syamasundar Rao, MD; Shakeel A. Qureshi, MD; Andrew Redington, MD; Carlos E. Ruiz, MD, PhD; Girish S. Shirali, MD; Horst Sievert, MD; Hideshi Tomita, MD; Gil Wernovsky, MD; Zhuoming Xu, MD, PhD; William C. L. Yip, MD; Carlos Zabal, MD 

Neonatology Today Editorial Board: Dilip R. Bhatt, MD; Barry D. Chandler, MD;   Anthony C. Chang, MD; K. K.  Diwakar, MD; Willa H. Drummond, MD, MS (Informatics); Philippe S. Friedlich, MD; Mitchell Goldstein, MD;  Lucky Jain, MD; Patrick McNamara, MD; David A. Munson, MD; Michael A. Posencheg, MD;  DeWayne Pursley, MD, MPH; Joseph Schulman, MD, MS; Alan R. Spitzer, MD; Dharmapuri Vidysagar, MD;  Leonard  E. Weisman, MD; Stephen Welty, MD; Robert White, MD; T.F. Yeh, MD 

Photo Credits: Koulbanis Family
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