Late-night dash to save four newborns

Lynn Williams and Lee-Anne Butler

THE call came at about 6pm. Four newborns desperately needed to be transported to hospital to be put on ventilators to save their lives.

The babies – three who were born on Tuesday, and one last week at Dora Nginza Hospital – all suffer from congenital pneumonia and needed to be put on ventilators to assist their breathing.

Setting everything aside, a dedicated group of nurses and paramedics rushed to assist the fragile newborns. This intervention is what ultimately saved the lives of the four babies.

Paramedics yesterday recalled their dash of mercy to Life St George’s Hospital on Tuesday night to save the four.

All 12 ventilators, six in the paediatric ICU and six in the neo-natal ICU at Dora Nginza Hospital, were occupied at the time the emergency arose.

“It was important for us to get the newborns transported safely, with as little stress to them as possible,” Gardmed paramedic Heather McLeod said.

McLeod’s colleague, Daniel Hart, was among the five paramedics who arrived in two ambulances at Life St George’s Hospital at about 6.30pm to pick up four nurses and specialised equipment to assist in the transportation of the babies.

Because transporting the newborns required specialised equipment and extra care, Life St George’s Hospital staff provided oxygen and ventilators from their supplies.

“After picking up the nurses we drove with both our lights and sirens on to get to the babies as fast as possible. After picking up the babies we only used our lights with a response car driving in front to clear traffic for us,” Hart said.

McLeod said it took nurses and paramedics a long time to incubate the babies to ensure they had enough oxygen for the drive.

“The babies’ lungs were not properly developed so they needed assistance in breathing,” she said.

Hart said the babies weighed between 2.2kg and 3.4kg.

“It was also important for us to work quickly because we were transporting the babies at night in the cold,” he said.

Hart said the mother of one of the babies had died after suffering cardiac arrest during delivery. An emergency caesarean section was performed to rescue the baby but it suffered brain damage due to lack of oxygen.

Life St George’s spokeswoman Natalie Henman said the babies had been admitted to the hospital’s neo-natal ICU on Tuesday night.

Eastern Cape Health Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said even though the number of ventilators at Dora Nginza’s ICU was sufficient, the large number of premature babies being born at the facility was putting a huge strain on the hospital’s resources.

Teenage pregnancies, alcohol and drug abuse during pregnancy, HIV/Aids and a lack of proper neo-natal care were contributing factors which had led to an increase in the number of premature babies needing emergency care in the hospital’s ICU unit, according to Kupelo.

“Pregnant teenagers deliver very small sickly babies, sometimes as small as my hand. This requires them to be placed on a ventilator in the ICU for weeks or sometimes months for their lungs to develop,” Kupelo said.

“We do not have a shortage. [But ]due to an increase in premature births we could not cope with the demand.”

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