Westmont Magazine Treating the Tiniest Patients

As a board-certified neonatologist, Dr. Benjamin Rattray ’01 spends all his time in the hospital caring for premature infants. He gets to know the babies and their families as they cling to life in the days and weeks following birth. In a new book, “When All Becomes New: A Doctor’s Stories of Life, Love, and Loss” (Wipf & Stock, 2021), he describes some of his tiny patients and their struggle for life.

The volume grew out of notes about his patients. “Something happened, and I just kept writing,” he says. “I finished one and then had another story to tell.” Eventually, the stories became a book. He spent six years on it, patching together time to write whenever he could.

Meanwhile, he completed an MBA, founded a writing project for physicians led by professors from the University of North Carolina Greensboro MFA program and kept up a busy schedule as associate medical director of neonatal intensive care at Cone Health in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Each chapter of his book focuses on a patient, ranging from a preterm baby with sepsis to a full-term infant with a birth injury. Ben changed the details to keep most of his patients anonymous. “These stories have stuck with me over the years and affected me the most,” he says.

He recounts resuscitating a baby on the cusp of viability, purposely inducing hypothermia in a newborn, and removing and replacing twice an infant’s blood. “I share intimate moments from my experiences, such as flying to stabilize a sick newborn, resuscitating a baby in the emergency room after the death of the mother and placing a breathing tube in a 500-gram baby and seeing her years later at a preschool show,” he says. He also reflects on the disquieting transition from work to home, the death of a close colleague and his struggle to relate to a drug-addicted mother.

“Neonatology is an incredibly interpersonal field as we develop relationships with families and their sick babies,” he says. “Meeting with parents in such a stressful and difficult time can be emotional. Patients can stay in the NICU for months at a time.”

Ben started at Westmont as an English major but switched to biology when he realized he wanted to pursue medicine. Lots of summer school classes and organic chemistry made him occasionally question his decision. Despite his change in majors, he got all the Westmont classes he needed. “I couldn’t have done that at a big university,” he says. “I appreciated the Christian LIBERAL ARTS, my classes, relationships with professors and the beautiful campus.” In a seminar with former English professor Marilyn McEntyre, Ben read books by physicians.

He got involved in Christian Concerns his sophomore year and served on the medical and dental team for Potter’s Clay his junior year. He also volunteered at a clinic in downtown Santa Barbara and on the pediatrics floor at Cottage Hospital.

After graduating from Westmont, he worked as a pediatric medical assistant and an EMT for two years. “That helped me mature,” he says. Ben then earned his medical degree from Western University of Health Sciences and completed a residency in pediatrics and a three-year fellowship in neonatology at Duke University.

He earned the MBA to get a background in business, learn the language of administrators and better understand the other side of medicine. Ben belongs to a neonatal care practice with nine full-time physicians associated with a 45-bed NICU, where they provide around-the-clock coverage.

Ben’s mother worked as a midwife in England. When his parents emigrated to New Zealand, where Ben was born, she served as a district nurse, driving around Wellington to provide outpatient care. “I went on rounds with her occasionally,” Ben says. “It made a big impact.” The family also lived in London and Sydney before moving to Irvine when he was 13. “Living in so many places expands your worldview, but being uprooted is difficult,” he says. “At Westmont, I learned I could overcome things I was nervous about.”

Ben met his wife, Danielle, in a high school church youth group. She majored in biology at UCLA and did pharmaceutical research. She stays home with their three children, 15, 12 and 9.