Three hospitals, two states, 24 hours: how Children’s Colorado saved Benjamin’s daughter

My name is Benjamin Anderson,
and I am the Chief Executive Officer of Kearny County
Hospital, which is a comprehensive county health
complex in southwest Kansas. Our infant adopted daughter was
hospitalized in our rural community with accelerated heart
rate. It was not a situation that our local family physician
had ever seen in the emergency department, and so right away
recognized that this was unusual and probably needed a higher
level of care. My wife and Naomi, went on an airplane to
Wichita, Kansas, to a hospital there. And we really weren’t
told what was going on with our daughter, other than the fact
that she had an accelerated heart rate and they were giving
her a drug called Adenosine for some condition. After about five
hours, a pediatric cardiologist showed up and introduced himself
and asked how we were doing. And I said, “Well with all due
respect, sir, we’re scared and frustrated. What’s going on with
our daughter?” And when I asked him where he’d been he said,
“Well I’ve been managing this over the phone since three in
the morning, I wouldn’t have done anything different if I was
here.” Right as he was explaining that, a pediatric
intensivist came in and said, “Doctor, we can’t get a central
line in on this little girl–implying our daughter– we
need you right now, this is very urgent.” And so he left
mid-conversation and that’s really the explanation that we
were given. Just shortly after that, the intensivist came back
in and said, “If this was my daughter, I would get her to
Denver children’s hospital right now. This is arguably the best
hospital in the United States for children with cardiac
issues.” We said, call the plane, get it over here. Flight
for Life Colorado showed up about and hour and a half later,
and still we were unsure of how serious the situation was. And
then an ER physician showed up who was a friend of ours, and
was not working there. She came in and said, “Your daughter is
very sick. Are you aware of this?” I said, “What do you
mean?” And she said, “Her life’s in danger.” And I said, “No,
people had not made us aware of that.” And I looked at the
Flight for Life nurse at that time, and I said, “What are the
chances that our daughter codes on this flight?” And she said,
“They’re very real. In fact, we don’t know if she’s well enough
to ship her.” I was not told that our daughter’s situation
was that critical, nor was Kayla, nor was my wife. And so
this was alarming to us. And we really realized at that time,
this is serious. This might not go well. For 70 minutes we
sailed above the clouds. And we got to this emergency room here,
and it was like a television show. There was this team of a
dozen people that were waiting at the ED for us, and they had
rehearsed this, you could tell. I’m watching this happen, she
looked over at me–the Flight for Life nurse–as we were
running down the hall, and said, “You see this lady?” She said,
“If there’s anyone in the United States that you want taking care
of your daughter in this situation, it’s that lady right
there. She’s a boss.” And sure enough, we’re sitting in this
cardiac ICU room, room one, I’ll never forget it. Like a
quarterback, she has the play, she knows what’s going on on the
field, and she’s updated. Flight for Life nurse gives her the
report and she says, “Okay, intubate.” And then she sits
down with me, and she leans forward and she said, “Okay
Benjamin my name is Shannon Buckvold, and I’m the pediatric
cardiologist in charge of your daughter’s care and your
daughter is very sick. To save her life we’re going to have to
administer a drug that’s going to restart her heart. And to do
that, it may send her into cardiac arrest. And if that
happens, I’m going to have to put her on an extreme form of
life support. And I don’t know that it’s gonna happen–it might
not, it might be just fine. But in the event that it does, I’m
not gonna have time to have this conversation with you again. Is
this okay with you?” I remember saying, “Whatever you say is
what I’m gonna go with. Thank you for involving me in that.”
And so she sat down with me 90 seconds later and said, “Hey
good news–she’s intubated, her oxygen sats are back up to 100%,
her breathing is fine, her heart rate is now normal, she’s no
longer in immediate danger. And I just want to let you know that
we’re gonna proceed this way if her body reacts this way, we’ll
proceed this way, if her body reacts that way, we’ll proceed
that way. I just don’t want you to be surprise. Is this okay
with you?” Is this plan of care okay with you?” And then the
second day happened where we were still here. And a woman
walked in who said, “Hi. I’m an infection prevention specialist,
and I’m here to make sure that your daughter doesn’t get sick.
I’m gonna make sure that your room stays very clean and it’s
sterilized, and so to do that, to really keep her safe, I’m
gonna need your commitment to make sure that you’re sanitizing
your hands coming in and out of the room. We just need your
participation in this. Can I have your commitment to join us
in this way?” I said, “Yes.” Then she proceeded to clean the
toilets and mop the floors and clean the countertops. She was a
housekeeper. And she took her role in my daughter’s care that
seriously. Then it began to occur to me, this is systemic.
This is a culture where everyone sees their role in saving lives
as important. Naomi was discharged after six days.
Everybody in six days walked in, introduced themselves, told us
why they were there, told us their role in our daughter’s
care, and asked us if we understood that. And that was
remarkable to me that everybody thought enough of us to include
us. The communication really complimented the excellent care
that we were receiving. This story for Children’s Hospital
Colorado is a victory lap. But I think it also reminded me of the
importance of practice. This victory didn’t happen without
years and years of refining processes and practicing and
rehearsing. And for a little girl like my daughter, that’s
the difference between being a family of five and a family of
six right now. And without this place, we would’ve lost her. To
begin with, our physicians didn’t know about Children’s
Hospital Colorado. All they knew was to call the nearest tertiary
center in Wichita and try to get someone on the phone that might
be able to help us with something like this. The second
thing was there was an access issue. Even if Children’s
Hospital had wanted to fly in to pick up our daughter, there
wasn’t a runway within 50 miles that could have accommodated
their plane. The tough thing for me to deal with, was as the CEO
of that hospital, that’s on me, too. And I had to live with the
idea that we almost lost our daughter because of systems that
were not in place that I was responsible for. Any of us that
are in this health care industry have a moral responsibility to
constantly and relentlessly seek out improved better coordinated
systems. And if rural communities lack resources,
let’s find a way for those resources to be located and
placed there. If systems around a tertiary center like CHC, and
those rural communities don’t exist and we have a moral
responsibility to work relentlessly to develop them.
Because at the end of the day, there was a face on the other
side of it, and her name is Naomi.

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