HCA Midwest Health
June 28, 2011

500 critically ill and premature infants. Hundreds of thousands of miles driven in all kinds of weather. A thousand anxious parents and thousands more anxious grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends. These are the numbers that add up to a busy four years for the Midwest Neonatal Transport Team. But the team’s mission and purpose goes beyond numbers.

Ask Kristi and Jason Fine to define the rollercoaster emotions they experienced when their daughter was born prematurely several years ago at a Johnson County hospital. They’ll pepper their response liberally with “comforted” and “grateful.” Tiny Charli, the Olathe couple’s second child, was born four weeks early and required specialized breathing treatment. Enter the Midwest Neonatal Transport Team, who swaddled the newborn in an isolette and transferred her to Overland Park Regional Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the largest in Kansas City, within 24 hours of her birth.

Kristi describes the neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP), respiratory therapist (RT) and neonatal intensive care nurse who whisked Charli in a specially equipped ambulance to Overland Park Regional Medical Center (OPRMC), part of HCA Midwest Health System—Kansas City’s largest healthcare network—as both compassionate and focused.

“Jason and I were comforted by their presence, and they helped us get through that panicked feeling of being separated from Charli,” says Kristi. “We were grateful she had such good caretakers.”

Since Charli Fine’s transfer two years ago, the Midwest Neonatal Transport Team has shuttled hundreds more critically ill newborns to OPRMC and other HCA Midwest System hospitals with NICUs, including Centerpoint Medical Center, Research Medical Center and Menorah Medical Center. The team, headed by Medical Director Robert Holcomb, MD, recently completed their 500th transport in the region—and is still counting.

“When we launched our transport team in September 2007 to meet the increased demand of getting newborns from one hospital to another for acute care and treatment, we anticipated 60 transfers in the first year,” says Dr. Holcomb. “We marked our first anniversary in 2008 with more than 115 transfers. Now we’re into our fourth year and have 500 transfers. We know we’re serving the region’s needs.”

The Midwest Neonatal Transport Team transfers babies from as far away as Ft. Scott to specialized medical care in Johnson and Jackson counties and has two levels of teams to answer the emergency calls. “Unlike other transport teams in the area, we offer an experienced neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) with every Level 3 critical care transport,” says Diane Sparks, RN, BSN, the team’s coordinator. “Those transports are staffed with an NNP, registered nurse (RN) and RT. Convalescent or Level 2 transports consist of an RN and RT.”

Dr. Holcomb says the diagnostic element an NNP brings to the transport team is crucial. “Each NNP has extensive NICU training,” he says. “The level of critical thinking they bring to an in-the-field situation is invaluable.”

Sparks, a 25-year veteran of NICU work, and her team thrive on the main goal of getting a baby well enough to either return to the referring hospital to be with the family or to “graduate” it from the NICU for the momentous trip home. “I love the relationship we develop with the babies and families and the immense teamwork required,” she says.

In addition to newborn transports, the Midwest Neonatal Transport Team offers continuing medical education with lectures to physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and other allied healthcare workers at hospitals throughout the region. Some of the team’s transport leaders serve as expert consultants alongside leaders in the field of transport medicine.

The Midwest Neonatal Transport Team, together with HCA Midwest Health System, also sponsors and participates in various March of Dimes activities, including the annual Bikers for Babies fundraiser. “We’re passionate about educating and serving the community on the critical aspects of neonatal intensive care,” says Dr. Holcomb.

The Midwest Neonatal Transport Team is working in collaboration with American Medical Response (AMR) on a state-of-the-art ambulance, which will be unveiled this summer. “We’re always looking for opportunities to advance our transport capabilities,” says Dr. Holcomb.

Dr. Holcomb says the men and women on the Midwest Neonatal Transport Team are among the best he has worked with in his 20 years of military and civilian critical care transport. He often reflects on the parents of the fragile cargo that his well-trained team transports. “Everything is done to train our team—we leave no stone unturned,” he says. “When I know that what we did for someone else’s child—like Kristi and Jason Fine’s Charli—is exactly what I would have wanted for mine, then I know we’ve done our jobs to the very best of our capabilities.”

When Kristi pauses to remember a 24-hour-old Charli being transferred by the Midwest Neonatal Transport Team to a different hospital for advanced respiratory care, she uses words that might come as a surprise given the gravity of the situation. “Indescribably wonderful,” she says. “They took wonderful care of my little girl.”