While the birth of a child is normally a family affair, on Wednesday thousands of people from 60 different countries joined together with one set of would-be parents as they welcomed their baby boy into the world.
A Houston, TX, hospital provided a live Twitter feed broadcast of the event which included a warning to viewers that some images may be graphic, such as when doctors cut into the abdomen and uterus of the expectant mother.
While the medical community has been using social media and the Internet to do many things over the years, they have never used them for purposes such as a live c-section birth. Hospitals have tried to utilize Facebook and Twitter to gain exposure in a competitive medical market, and what better way to gain exposure than to break ground in a brand new area, providing viewers with a bird’s eye view to the real surgeries they have only seen performed on fictional television shows.
"It's fascinating to pull back the curtain on the mystery of the OR," said Natalie Camarata, the social media manager at Houston's Hermann Memorial Hospital who helped broadcast Wednesday's cesarean section as well as two other procedures, including a brain surgery done by Dr. Dong Kim, who gained notoriety when he treated former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head in 2011.
"They can see every piece ... these step-by-step processes that are something that happen every day," Camarata said, explaining why tens of thousands of people viewed the Twitter broadcasts. "It really demystifies it."
During the procedure, viewers were able to tweet questions and then the doctor or staff could respond to them immediately. One viewer from Norway asked about the difference in how the umbilical cord is treated in a C-section compared with a natural delivery. Many others tweeted their congratulations to the new parents. Some asked what the parents were going to name the baby boy, although the hospital said it would not release the personal information of the family in order to protect their identities. The parents had previously chosen to remain anonymous.
In the two hour procedure, the hospital gained more than 600 new followers. Many of them were obtained within the first three minutes of the procedure. Several viewers noted that the images were a bit too much for them, jokingly saying they would never watch it over breakfast.
Through a variety of matrix that helps track online activity, Camarata estimated that 72,000 watched the C-section live on Twitter, while an additional 11,000 viewed it in another format. The viewers were from 60 countries, she said, with the most followers coming from Germany, Norway and Israel.