Critically Ill Infants Travel to Care More Easily Thanks to Schmirler Foundation Gift

The Neonatal Paediatric Transport Team at Children’s Hospital is an extension of our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Paediatric Critical Care Unit (PCCU). Their mission is to travel by land or air to smaller centres to ensure children receive the safest transport possible. The team is one of four specialized paediatric hospital transport teams in Ontario and serves the largest geographic catchment area.

In January, the Team received an urgent call to move an infant with cardiac issues. With precious time ticking away, the Transport Team knew the critically ill baby needed to travel by helicopter. However, the Transport Team’s isolette — the specialized pod providing a safe, stable environment for sick infants to travel in — couldn’t easily attach to the helicopter. An ORNGE engineer had to first strip the stretcher down to its bolts, move the bolt system around, and then add attachment pieces for the isolette, and then the isolette itself.

The Transport Team did arrive in time to save the infant’s life in this case, but the unfortunate delays underscored a situation that needed to change.

Now, thanks to a generous gift from the Sandra Schmirler Foundation, the Neonatal Paediatric Transport Team at Children’s Hospital will be better equipped to help infants born too soon, too small, too sick and too far from life-saving care. With an $80,000 gift, the Sandra Schmirler Foundation has funded the purchase of a Helimod Stryker stretcher system with attachment pieces to secure a transport isolette in an ORNGE air ambulance helicopter, with ease.

Our Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children’s Hospital treats the most fragile and critically ill infants, including those born before 30 weeks gestation and weighing less than 1200 grams. About half of the 1,000+ infants treated at the NICU at Children’s Hospital last year came from outside London.

The Helimod Stryker stretcher system will allow the Transport Team to safely bring critically ill infants to London’s NICU from communities up to about 200 km away, such as Owen Sound, Sarnia, Wiarton or Chatham, in a fraction of the time ground transport would take.

Infants with life-threatening conditions such as cardiac issues, severe respiratory distress, or increased cranial pressure will be quickly connected to the intensive care they need, when every second counts.

This gift comes at an important time for the Transport Team, which has seen its need increase enough for a third shift to be added in January.

At a ceremony in Children’s Hospital’s B Atrium, Children’s Health Foundation celebrated the gift alongside Sandra Schmirler Foundation representatives Darren McEwen and Julie McMullin, as well as Dr. Cynthia Kenyon, a supporter of the Schmirler Foundation and retired Children’s NICU physician. Darren’s parents, Gary and Barb McEwen, were also in attendance and proudly support the Schmirler Foundation as Champions’ Circle monthly donors.Darren McEwen speaking at a lectern.

“It is with great pleasure that we announce this grant of $80,000 from the Sandra Schmirler Foundation to the Children’s Health Foundation,” said Darren. “This funding will be used to purchase a Helimod Stryker Stretcher, a crucial piece of equipment that will enhance the transportation and care of the most fragile patients in Southwestern and Central Ontario.

“Our Foundation’s mission is to help babies born too soon, too small, or too sick. Today, we add ‘too far’ to that mission. This Helimod Stryker Stretcher will ensure that babies in critical condition can be swiftly transported to receive the specialized care they need here at the Children’s Hospital.”

The Sandra Schmirler Foundation has been a long-time supporter of the NICU at Children’s Hospital, including donations toward specialized physiological monitors, breast pumps for mothers with preemies, a CPAP machine, a vein viewer, a jet ventilator, and help with purchasing a Giraffe OmniBed. The purchase of the Helimod Stryker stretcher system brings the Sandra Schmirler Foundation’s lifetime gift total to more than $330,000.Scott Fortnum speaking at a lectern.

“The Sandra Schmirler Foundation has been a wonderful friend to the NICU at Children’s Hospital,” said Children’s Health Foundation President and CEO Scott Fortnum. “You’ve helped build it into a very special place, an institution Western Ontarians have come to rely upon to provide the best possible care for the most fragile infants. With this gift, you’re not just helping families from far-flung communities who desperately need advanced care to access our NICU – you’re giving those families new-found hope, and for that, you have our deepest gratitude.”

Our sincerest, heartfelt thanks to the Sandra Schmirler Foundation for this generous gift — and for their continuing support — that works to ensure better outcomes for the sickest of babies from Western Ontario.

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