A Nelson family is praising the staff at Kootenay Lake Hospital and Interior Health for saving the life of their premature baby, who had to be medevaced to Kelowna in the middle of February’s biggest snowstorm.
Officials with Interior Health say it was one of the most complicated medical transfers they’ve ever had to do- one that involved doctors and nurses from Nelson, Trail, Grand Forks and Kelowna, the provincial ambulance service, and even snowplough operators along Highway 3.
Elizabeth Burns was born on February 7. She was eight weeks early, and only weighed about four pounds. Usually a baby that premature would be taken to Kelowna General Hospital, to that facilities’ neonatal intensive care unit.
However, there was a problem. February 7 was also the start of the massive snowstorm that struck the southern Interior, dumping more than 70 cm of snow on mountain passes. The air ambulance was grounded on the coast by freezing rain. Local highways were in terrible shape, and many closed due to heavy snow and limited visibility.
“The staff and physicians in Nelson are absolutely incredible,” says Elizabeths’ mother, Ashley Burns. “They saved my daughter’s life. They all went above and beyond to ensure that our intimidating situation was comfortable and personable.”
While the Nelson hospital staff did their best, and members of the Kootenay’s High Acuity Response Team (HART) were brought in from Trail for support, the newborn’s condition deteriorated further.
An RN from Grand Forks, Scott Lamont, drove through the heavy snow and dangerous conditions on the Paulson pass on the 8th to aid caregivers, who planned to take the child to Kelowna that evening. But the danger of avalanches from the heavy snowfall soon closed the pass.
By the 9th it became clear baby Elizabeth had to get to Kelowna. However, the air ambulance was still stuck on the coast.
Another doctor- HART’s Medical Director Dr. Jeff Hussey- was called in from a day on Red Mountain skiing, and volunteered to be part of the team to bring the weakening child to Kelowna by land.
With a Hussey, Lamont, ambulance crew, and even snowploughs clearing the route along the way, mother and child made it safely to KGH.
“It was a long, rough ride and it was a little tense,” says Lamont of the seven-hour trip. “Neonates are very susceptible to changing conditions, but Elizabeth is doing well, so that’s great.”
The head of Interior Health’s Patient Transportation Services said this incident was a textbook example of people going beyond the call to help a patient in need.
“When people ask me why transportation is such a big deal for Interior Health, this is the reason why,” says Brent Hobbs. “Without a doubt, this is the most complicated transfer I have been involved in and I’m proud of everyone who participated."
Baby Elizabeth is now resting, gaining weight and growing stronger at Kelowna General Hospital, and will soon join her dad, brother and sister back in Nelson.
“She's doing well," said Ashley Burns with an update regarding Baby Elizabeth.
"The nurses and paediatricians have said that she's progressing predictably still. She's beginning to orally feed when she has enough stamina, for a few feeds in a 24 hour period.
"She's very stable, just tiny - her weight today is 5lbs 4oz."
You can read the whole remarkable story of Elizabeth’s ride here at this link.