Delivering a breath of life — via robot

As I watched that beautiful, healthy, happy baby on the computer screen during my TV interview last week, I recalled my first encounter with him back in April. I was paged for a telemedicine consult with Silverton Hospital and informed that a mother was being taken for an emergency cesarean section because the baby was in distress.

When I connected to Silverton by way of the OHSU Telemedicine Network, I found the Silverton medical team was hard at work resuscitating a blue, lifeless baby. Quickly surveying the scene allowed me to draw on the experience and practice I’ve had during my training. Working with the Silverton team, we were able to clear the baby’s airway, and shortly thereafter the previously lifeless baby was pink, vigorous and breathing spontaneously.

I’ll admit that I was a little surprised when I was first approached to do an interview about this case. Why do they want to do a story about something that we, as neonatology fellows, or my supervising physicians do nearly every day in the neonatal intensive care unit? But as I’ve seen the response to this story, it has become acutely clear to me – I have an awesome job: A job that I love, a job in which I have the opportunity to save lives and help others do the same.

Telemedicine has added a new dimension to the impact that we as neonatal specialists are able to have on babies and their families. And what I’m finding is that impact is not only here in the Doernbecher Neonatal Care Center, but is extending out into the community as we expand our telemedicine program.

During medical emergencies we are not only able to share our experience and knowledge from the training we receive, but we can use visual cues to provide key aspects of care. Without these cues, the depth of support that we can provide to other physicians is certainly stunted. How can you offer input on vital technical skills required in resuscitating a baby if you can’t even see the resuscitation being performed? Assisting with life-saving procedures requires continuous feedback between you and your team, and visual cues speak volumes.

I’ll be the first to confess – I initially had doubts about telemedicine as a tool for helping treat infants at hospitals around Oregon. Patience and practice have enabled me to find better ways to help a struggling baby by not using my hands-on clinical skills, but rather my communication skills during these consultations. Seeing the lives that have been positively impacted by this “instantaneous subspecialty care” at our local community hospitals has made me, I must admit, a telemedicine convert. Moving forward, I will not take my role in this critical time of each newborn’s life for granted. And I will think about that adorable, chubby face smiling back at me through the screen as a reminder of this privilege.

Katie Townes McMann, D.O.
Fellow, Division of Neonatology, Doernbecher Neonatal Care Center
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital



2 responses to “Delivering a breath of life — via robot

  1. I was an RN in neonatal ICU/OHSU back in the early 70’s when we had none of the new wonderful tools available. We saved babies every day just by suctioning and rocking them gently. But I am one nurse welcoming the new technology mostly as she describes, to improve communication, speed information and save lives in a timely way. Love this story, and thanks for sharing it here.

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