If there is one field of medicine that is particularly tough and demanding it is Neonatology. Neonatology is at the crossroads of intensive care and paediatrics and involves the specialist care of newborn and/or premature babies.
The repatriation or medical transfer of a newborn baby to a specialist unit, invariably using an incubator, can often present a real challenge to air ambulance and rescue helicopter teams. The medical skills and equipment necessary to maintain the health and continuous care of the patient, in addition to the complex logistics involved, require the utmost professionalism and faultless organisation of the team.
Premature babies are already extremely fragile on the ground and a lot more sensitive to environment changes than an adult patient, so care in the air is even more precarious than for a regular patient. Pressure variations, changes in temperature, vibration of the aircraft and especially the noise can add stress and destabilise a tiny body in a far more excessive way than it would an adult patient.
On the ground, the personnel responsible for the care of premature babies already have additional qualification, neonatology, being a specialisation in the field of paediatrics. To be able to perform the same care in the air these specialised physicians need to be trained regarding flight particularities and familiarise themselves with the different environment. Neonatal missions always include a neonatologist as well as a specialist intensive care children’s flight nurse/paramedic who has been trained in APLS (Advanced Paediatric Life Support), the latter responsible for the handling of the incubator.
The incubator combined with an intensive care ventilator is, of course, vital equipment for such a transport. An example for such equipment is the MediPrema N.I.T.E. equipped with a Mobile Stephan R120 ventilator (see photo) used by European Air Ambulance’s member LAR. These complementary units have monitoring equipment and accessories specially adapted for young patients. To minimise all possible risks, back-up units are available for all vital equipment on the aircraft.
As part of its cooperation with the Centre Hospitalier in Luxembourg, European Air Ambulance uses this equipment when regularly undertaking the transfer of unstable newborn patients to specialist units elsewhere in Europe – for instance the paediatric cardiology department in Brussels or the premature baby department at the Necker Hospital in Paris.
As a general rule in the transport of newborn and/or premature babies, quality is more important than speed. Only an organisation with the experience in medical flights around the world and the professionalism of specialist teams, as well as the quality of the medical equipment, can guarantee such optimum care for even the smallest patients.