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Starting life in a home-made incubator: how a vet's ingenuity saved his premature son's life
02 October 2019 @ 18:17

In a small village in the province of Valladolid, Castile and León, in the late 1950s, the combined ingenuity of a young veterinary surgeon and a doctor on the verge of retirement made it possible for a baby weighing less than 900 grams to survive, against all odds, thanks to the makeshift incubator they improvised together.

That baby was Eugenio Ampudia, a renowned conceptual artist, who came to the world "suddenly", in the middle of a heavy snowfall, on January 16th 1959 in Melgar de Arriba, a village of just 600 inhabitants.

Ampudia is preparing to tell his story at the inaugural session of the XXVII Congress of Neonatology and Perinatal Medicine, which will be held from October 2nd to 4th in Madrid, to give hope to parents who face the anguish of a premature child.

Eugenio was the son of a young vet who had come to the village from the city a few months earlier to open a practice, and who teamed up with the local doctor, Cesidio Villalba, to build a makeshift incubator in his house, "half equine, half human", with "whatever they had to hand".

An insulated room with a cot surrounded by glass bottles filled with hot water that kept the room at a constant temperature was the "small R&D project" that the two medical professionals devised, trying to solve problems as they arose, "without an instruction manual".

"The main thing about this story is that they combined their knowledge of human medicine and veterinary medicine, pooled their information and built something that worked at a time when such a premature baby had little chance of survival and much less so in a remote village."



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