When 4-year-old Claire Winterburn became critically ill during the holiday season, her pediatrician knew the safest way for her to travel from Elizabeth City to Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk was in a CHKD transport unit.
“Claire was obviously extremely ill,” says Dr. Daniel Robinson of CHKD Medical Group’s Coastal Pediatrics in Elizabeth City. Though her cerebral palsy caused frequent respiratory infections, this time was different. “I knew that getting her to CHKD as quickly as possible was the best thing for her.”
CHKD transports are state-of-the-art mobile intensive care units specially designed to meet the emergency needs of children. Two teams are on duty all day, every day to transport children to Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters from medical facilities and pediatric practices in southeastern Virginia, northeastern North Carolina, and Virginia’s Eastern Shore. On average, CHKD transport teams make more than 1,200 trips a year.
“The transport team truly offers mobile intensive care,” says Dr. Robinson. “They can do almost anything an emergency room can do, but they do it inside a vehicle on the way to the hospital.”
Dr. Robinson gave CHKD an overview of Claire’s condition via phone. Her oxygen levels were dangerously low, and her breathing rate was elevated. Hospital staff relayed the information to the transport team, who called Dr. Robinson for additional details and provided a timetable for arrival. Within the hour, the team arrived at Coastal Pediatrics.
Each transport team consists of a registered nurse and a registered respiratory therapist with pediatric critical care experience, as well as a certified paramedic. The team’s first responsibility is to stabilize patients before transporting them to the hospital.
“Claire was sicker than we expected when we arrived,” says Chris Johnson, the registered nurse on the team that day. Along with Lori Kaliher, a respiratory therapist, and Israel Medina, a paramedic, Chris moved Claire to the transport unit, started an IV, and began antibiotics.
“The theory behind the transport is that we’re bringing the hospital to our patient,” explains Chris. “The equipment and supplies on the transport are especially designed for kids, and if a child’s condition changes en route to the hospital, we are fully capable of addressing any issues that occur.”
Communication is a critical part of the transport team’s job. “We let parents know what we are doing and any treatments we’re planning. During the intensity of the moment, parents often express relief to have us there,” says Chris.
Claire’s parents, Rachael and Ron, were anxious about leaving her. “I was terrified, but the transport team told me exactly what would happen from the minute Claire left my arms,” says Rachael. “They had everything they needed for her at their fingertips, and we watched them stabilize her right there in the back of the transport unit.”
The transport team’s compassion comforted the couple as they followed the unit to CHKD in Norfolk. “The transport team was phenomenal,” says Rachael. “They even called us during the ride to let us know Claire was okay.”
Once she arrived, Claire was taken to the pediatric intensive care unit, where she was diagnosed with severe pneumonia. She spent three weeks in the hospital before she was well enough to go home.
Rachael and Ron feel grateful for Claire’s transport team. “It really makes a statement about how CHKD is so child-friendly. When you have a child with special needs, you really appreciate the extra effort everyone makes to treat a child and their parents with special care.”
Dr. Robinson agrees. “The CHKD transport is a wonderful resource for regional pediatricians and hospitals. It almost feels like the cavalry is arriving when they pull up.”
Visit chkd.org for more information.