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A two-year-old boy with a bad cough and shallow breathing was admitted to a community hospital one morning in rural Alabama. As the day wore on, his heart rate plunged. The child required oxygen but wouldn’t keep a mask on.
Fearing the worst, a phone call was placed to USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital. Within minutes, a team was dispatched to transport the critically ill child to the Mobile hospital to receive specialized pediatric care.
Since 2001, the neonatal intensive care unit team and pediatric intensive care unit transport teams have been providing this free life-saving service, traveling in specially-equipped ambulances to retrieve critically ill children within a 100-mile radius of Mobile. Their vehicles are provided by the Alabama Forestry Association and the Loggers Council through the Log A Load for Kids program.
“I think that the pediatric and neonatal transport teams provide an invaluable service to children in our region,” said Dr. Sheryl Falkos, medical director of pediatric critical transport. “I know our teams have made a life-saving difference in the lives of many children. I’m very proud of them.”
The process begins when staff members at USA Children's & Women's Hospital receive a call from a hospital or surgery center. A provider describes a patient’s condition and the appropriate NICU or PICU team is quickly assembled. Typically, within 20 minutes, the team, which is comprised of a nurse, respiratory therapist and driver, is on the road -- something that often happens several times a week. In rare instances, a doctor will accompany the team.
Members of the team must be experienced and specially trained. Since the nurses and respiratory therapists are the physician’s eyes and ears, communication and good critical thinking skills are vital. Their mission is to stabilize a patient and get them back to the Intensive Care Unit as quickly as possible. While the teams most often travel within a two-hour drive of the hospital, they also have traveled as far away as Montgomery, Andalusia, Ala., and Hattiesburg, Miss.
“When it comes to caring for children, no one has the level of expertise that we have,” said Mary Wilstrup, a registered nurse and transport coordinator for the PICU. “When you arrive, you often see that sense of relief on the staff’s faces. It’s like ‘thank God the cavalry is here.’”
In the case of the toddler, because to the boy’s dire condition, the team was in constant communication all the way back with Dr. Sheryl Falkos. The child was unstable and fighting for his life. The respiratory therapist was able to intubate the child. His heart rate came back up. Life-saving drugs were administered that helped his blood pressure rise to more normal levels.
The boy had pneumonia and was going into septic shock. By the time he arrived at Children’s & Women’s, his condition was stabilized. Had the team not picked him up, however, he likely would not have made it.
For NICU team member and RNC Keri Williams, her favorite stories are the kids who beat the odds.: “The most rewarding thing is to bring a child here that is so sick, see them stabilized and then see them go home, or to see them healthy a year or two later when they return to the NICU reunions,” she said.
© 2017 USA Health System