Flight nurses Kelly Hamill and Dakota Shadwell were among EMS professionals from across the country honored at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., recently for coming to the aid of a mother and her baby, who was born prematurely.
Hamill, of Effingham, and Shadwell, of Strasburg, work for Air Evac Lifeteam. The two were dispatched in early May to HSHS Good Shepherd Hospital in Shelbyville for an incident that would require multiple aircraft transport.
With little information, the two airlifted from their base in Mattoon. Enroute to the hospital, they learned the dispatch was for a mother who had just given birth at 27 weeks before arriving at the hospital. However, they were informed another aircraft wouldn’t be coming, so the two had to come up with a game plan before landing.
“We decided we were going to bring all of our equipment in down from the itty-bitty neonatal side of things all the way to adult ’cause we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” said Shadwell.
As the nurses checked the mother, who appeared stable, they could hear the baby, who weighed only 2 pounds, struggling to breathe.
“So as soon as we found out that our patient was stable, our focus then switched over to the baby,” said Shadwell.
Hamill realized that the ER staff was bagging the baby with a bag valve mask to assist with ventilation. The situation was familiar to Hamill, who started her career in neonatal intensive care.
Hamill told them she had a Bubble CPAP that can help the baby with breathing. The Air Evac crew had just gotten the device designed specifically for small and fragile patients a few months prior.
“They were like, ‘Great, you guys take over’ because they don’t deliver there,” said Hamill.
Although they had used it three times before, the baby was the tiniest patient they had used it on.
After placing the baby on the CPAP machine, the two provided additional warming measures to the baby, who felt slightly cold. They also started an IV line to give the baby some fluids and sugar.
While they tried to figure out how they were going to transport both mom and baby, they were able to obtain a ground specialty team to transport the baby. They continued to monitor the mother and baby while they waited for the specialty team to arrive.
Then they handed care of the baby over to the specialty transport team and redirected their focus back to the mom.
“We got her packed up, and headed on our way to the receiving facility,” said Hamill.
The receiving facility was HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, where the baby was also taken.
The baby is home now and doing well, according to Hamill and Shadwell, who follow the baby’s progress on social media.
Hamill said without the Bubble CPAP, they probably would have had to put a breathing tube in the baby to assist with ventilation.
“He was definitely having a hard time breathing,” she said.
“A lot of times, they end up being intubated eventually because their lungs are premature and not developed all the way, but the less you intubate them, the less time they’re on a breathing machine, the better off they are.
“So, by being able to put them on Bubble CPAP, we avoided having to intubate him, which in the long run can help a premature infant out. You don’t have to put them on the breathing machine for as long,” she added.
The east-central Illinois Air Evac Lifeteam crew obtained the Bubble CPAP after Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center, where they are based, needed something for transporting kids with respiratory distress and respiratory symptoms during COVID and RSV season.
Hamill said the machine they normally put them on can’t go on the aircraft. So, they needed to come up with a solution.
“The company, GMR, that we work for had already in our southern states started working on this project for Bubble CPAP. So, I went to Kentucky and trained with our southern states on Bubble CPAP and brought it back to the region. When this all went down, we were the only base in our region that carried it,” she said.
The region covers Indiana, Illinois and Iowa.
Hamill and Shadwell say they were only doing their job and were surprised when they got the phone call informing them they would be receiving the Stars of Life Award, in which the American Ambulance Association (AAA) recognizes extraordinary EMS professionals from across the U.S.
“It definitely took me by shock. I’m very grateful to be nominated and to receive this award,” said Hamill.
Like Hamill, Shadwell was also not expecting the award but was grateful to be nominated and chosen. He was also relieved Hamill was his partner that day.
“In the ER, I dealt with infants but this was by far the smallest that I had ever seen,” he said.
The two received medallions and plaques at the ceremony earlier this month.
“That night was definitely a team effort, and we just want to thank everyone involved: the EMS that brought mom and baby to the hospital to all the nurses and doctors at the hospital,” said Hamill. “Just my team in general, if it wasn’t for them and wanting to learn this new piece of equipment, we wouldn’t have had it available that night.”