BILLINGS, Mont. -- When Natalie and Anthony Saur moved into their quaint early 1900s home in Billings, they noticed a large metal tub sitting in the shed. Their realtor told them it was a turkey fryer, or perhaps a planter. A few years later, Natalie couldn't shake the thought that it might be something more.
"We saw the label on the lid [engraved Dr. Julius H. Hess, MD], and I immediately went to Google, and said okay, let's look up more about this guy," says Natalie Saur.
The guy, Dr. Julius H. Hess, MD, was the inventor of the first-ever electric-heated and water-jacketed infant incubator in 1923. Hess is now known as the father of neonatology.
"It is incredible to think that during that time, something like this [incubator] saved those itty-bitty babies," Natalie says.
Dr. Tonse Raju, author of Prenatal Profiles says because of the incubator's electric heat and other characteristics, it could maintain a constant internal temperature and supply fresh air and humidity. According to St. Vincent Health Care in Billings, there are only three known Hess infant incubators in the world today. One of them currently resides in the Smithsonian Museum.
"I don't think this is something that should be sitting in my garage or a storage somewhere," Natalie remarks.
Excited by their new discovery, Natalie and Anthony quickly came in contact with St. Vincent Health Care in Billings, and the NICU staff became fascinated by the antique. It's an invention Dr. Leslie Ruybal says is the foundation of neonatal medicine.
"To go from that and see how the technology has evolved, you know, these pioneers in neonatology and in medicine that have figured out the most fundamental things to save babies and see where this has led us.... it's pretty remarkable," says Dr. Ruybal.
Dr. Ruybal says present day incubators can monitor weight, temperature, and provide the right amount of humidity for prenatal babies.
"And we also have special lights on the incubators as well so that we can do procedures inside," she says.
There are also cameras on each incubator, so parents can see their baby through the glass. Dr. Ruybal says the NICU technology we have today was made possible by Hess's design in 1923. His ingenuity saving thousands of prenatal babies for nearly one hundred years.
The Saurs are trying to find a new home for the Hess incubator, so more people can appreciate the one-of-a-kind historical artifact beyond their Billings backyard.