It's not Santa's sleigh, but for critically ill newborns in our region, a new specialized ambulance is the closest thing to magic. It was made possible, sadly, through donations after the death of a Smiths Falls baby. His name was Scottie.  He was born premature and died at 7 months.  But his memory lives on and so, too, will his legacy now, a legacy that will help so many others just like him.

In the quiet of the neonatal intensive care room at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Bruce cuddles his tiny son.  Griffin is just 2 pounds, 13 ounces and was born at 27 weeks.

“He’s tiny, very tiny and fragile,” says his mother Brittany, “but apparently CHEO is the best place for him to be for the care he needs.”

The family is from North Bay.  Griffin was flown to Ottawa then taken to CHEO in an ambulance.

As of January, critically ill infants from northern and eastern Ontario who need the care of CHEO’s Neonatal Transport Team in their community, or who need to be brought to CHEO for specialized care, will have a dedicated ambulance to transport them.

Peter Kelly is the Acting Chief of Ottawa Paramedic Services, “It’s going to be a timely response,” says Kelly of the specialized ambulance, “and the baby will get back to CHEO quicker.”

The vehicle brings an intensive care unit to the patient.  It includes a mobile incubator on a special power lift.  The incubator or neonatal transport isolette  weighs about 400 pounds and, without that hydraulic lift, required 4 paramedics and two crews to lift it in and out of the ambulance.  Now, two members of the Neonatal Transport Team can easily do it.

“Our primary goals for success are to optimize our response times,” says Dr. Stephanie Redpath, the medical director for CHEO’s Neonatal Transport Team, “and total transport times for these infants because we know that influences their outcome.”

For Jodi Empey's newborn, the outcome 16 years ago was not good.  Born a preemie, Scottie died at just 7 months old of an infection from complications.  The dedicated ambulance, called the Neonatal Transport Unit or NTU was funded by donations they raised in memory of their son. The family even got to sign it, a constant reminder of Scottie's short life.

“For every parent who has been in my situation,” says Empey, “you want the fastest response and for them to get to CHEO as fast as they can and this is the way they can do it, by having this dedicated ambulance.”

More than 400 newborns with complex medical needs are brought from regional hospitals to CHEO’s and Kingston’s Neonatal Intensive Care Units every year.  Many more are stabilized by the team and brought to nearby hospitals that can provide appropriate care.  Until now, the Neonatal transport team had to rely on any available ambulance to return them to their base at CHEO, after attending to a baby in need.  The dedicated ambulance will free up the team for more newborns in distress.

Emily Hrnchiar is a nurse at CHEO and part of the Transport Team, “Ah, it's an awesome Christmas present. We’re so excited,” she says, “My face just lit up when I saw the CHEO bear and our name on the side.  It's a great thing to have.”

This is a one-year pilot project.  The NTU hits the road mid-January.