MARCH 2012

Robert Kelly, M.D. with newborn transport device.

Newborn Transport Device Provides
Maximum Safety and Flexibility

A transport system for newborns co-designed by UCLA’s Pediatric Transport Team is the first device in the country that allows critically ill infants to be safely transported from ambulance to helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft without ever leaving the enclosure.

“This system allows us to provide full monitoring and full medical care for newborns who urgently need surgery or other care where time is of the essence,” says Robert Kelly, M.D., the Pediatric Transport Team’s associate medical director. “It’s essentially a mobile NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).”

Every month, between 12 and 15 newborns are referred from outlying regional hospitals such as Antelope Valley Medical Center or Bakersfield Memorial Hospital to the NICU at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, which provides the highest level of care available to gravely ill children.

The newborns tend to be premature babies, some with a gestational age of just 23 weeks, who are suffering from congenital heart defects or neurological injuries, says Dr. Kelly. The NICU partners with REACH Air Medical Services, which operates both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, to transport the sick babies to UCLA.

The air transport vehicles are equipped with state-of-the-art navigation systems and an in-flight telephone system that allows medical personnel to communicate with physicians at both the referring hospital and UCLA. To insure safety, the highly trained pilots use night vision goggles and follow strict criteria for flying in unsafe weather conditions. Each air transport team includes a UCLA critical care pediatric nurse, a pediatric respiratory therapist and, depending on the patient’s acuity, a pediatric ICU fellow or attending physician.

REACH personnel worked with UCLA’s transport team for approximately two years to design a newborn transport system — also known as an isolette — that meets the special needs of babies weighing 10 pounds or less while also fitting within the constraints of modern medical helicopters and aircraft.

Measuring three feet in width and two feet in height, the isolette includes a heated transparent enclosure that allows the medical team access to the infant on three sides and a base containing emergency medical equipment such as a ventilator and specialty gases.

“The biggest issue we have with these very small neonates is temperature control,” Dr. Kelly says. “The enclosure allows us to keep them warm and minimizes external noise and exposure, which can predispose them to cardiac instability or neurological injuries.”