Special Ambulances Transport Young Patients


Three-day-old Leila Natalini was sleeping, so her parents, Alby and Krissy, also dozed off. A short time later they awoke to every parent’s nightmare: Leila was not breathing.

While Alby began performing CPR, Krissy called 911. Leila was taken to St. Francis, revived and placed on life support. “They told us we had to transport her to St. Mary’s where there was a PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit), but that transporting her would be dangerous because of all the machines she was on,” recalled Krissy Natalini.

Fortunately, Bon Secours has a Critical Care Transport program just for pediatric patients.

The beginning of Critical Care Transport

Dr. Sara Gay, Medical Director of the Critical Care Transport Program, was an early advocate for a safer way to transport young patients. Bon Secours received its first specialty-designed ambulance in September 2007. It was followed by a second in July 2010. Johnnie Gay, Administrative Director of Critical Care Transport, oversaw the construction of the ambulance, ensuring that it allowed room for the equipment and personnel needed.

He and Joe Rudisill, Director of Planning and Project Management at St. Mary’s, incorporated best practices to create an exemplary vehicle, the first of its kind in Central Virginia. “When the first ambulance began operating, we only anticipated 35 NICU transports in the first year,” said Rudisill. “Instead, we performed over 360 pediatric transports in which 44 were NICU. Now, with two ambulances, we are transporting almost
90 patients a month.”

They hope to acquire a third vehicle for Hampton Roads.

These custom-built ambulances cost approximately $400,000 each, more than three to four times the cost of a regular ambulance due to its specialty and equipment needed to transport critical care patients. But to Krissy Natalini, they are priceless. “I was able to sit in the cab of the ambulance and watch Leila the entire time. Being able to be there was indescribably important.”

A mobile ICU

“This ambulance is an ICU on wheels,” explained Johnnie Gay.

The crew includes a Respiratory Therapist, Specialty Nurse (PICU, NICU or Adult), Paramedic and an EMT-B Driver. “Our ambulances and teams have been all over the state — even out of state — to help patients,” said Gay. “Children are not small adults; they are completely different and require different equipment and different care.”

Leila Natalini made it safely to St. Mary’s and today, approaching 3 years old, is thriving. “I know that it is because of that ambulance and the amazing team led by Dr. Gay that Leila is here today,” said her mother.

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