Mother, baby flown safely home after 7 months in ICU

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU

Mother, Kaitlyn Crawford, and 7-month-old son, Nakoa, sleep during a C-130 Hercules flight bringing Nakoa from Dallas Children's Medical Center, Texas, to Balboa Naval Medical Center, California, June 7, 2019. Nakoa, who was born at 25 weeks and suffered significant health issues while his mother was visiting Dallas was stable enough for a critical care air transport team to bring him to a hospital closer to where his father is stationed. The move reunited Kaitlyn with her husband and daughter whom she had been separated from for seven months while she stayed in Dallas to care for her newborn son. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU

Seven-month-old patient, Nakoa Crawford, sleeps during a flight from Dallas to San Diego under the care of a critical care air transport team June 7, 2019. He and his mother, Kaitlyn Crawford, have had to remain in Dallas away from the rest of their family since he was born prematurely at 25 weeks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa//Released)

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU

Capt. Nicole Leib and Maj. Mariana Lacuzong, 59th Medical Wing critical care air transport team nurses, play with 7-month-old patient, Nakoa Crawford, during the five-hour flight from Dallas to San Diego June 7, 2019. Comprised of a doctor, nurse and respiratory therapist, the team must pack everything the will need while airborne - echocardiogram, oxygen, blood, medicine and other tools of the trade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa//Released)

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU

Senior Airman Analiese Heitkamp, 59th Medical Wing critical air transport team respiratory therapist, adjusts 7-month-old patient, Nakoa Crawford’s, hearing protection in flight between Dallas and San Diego, June 7, 2019. Nakoa was born prematurely at 25 weeks and has had significant health issues since. Now stable enough to be moved, he was able to be transported to a hospital closer to home in a mobile intensive care unit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa//Released)

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU

Nakoa Crawford, a 7-month-old patient, is too small for the litters usually used for transport, so the critical care air transport team strapped a car seat to one slung between metal braces in the cargo bay of a C-130 Hercules between Dallas and San Diego, June 7, 2019. CCATT members are trained to operate a flying intensive care unit and are practiced in treating patients with limited space, resources and support. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa//Released)

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU

Aeromedical evacuation and critical care air transport team members work together to hand-carry 7-month-old patient, Nakoa Crawford, aboard a C-130 Hercules via litter in Dallas June 7, 2019. AE, CCATT and aircrew members got the baby safely to Balboa Naval Medical Center, San Diego. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa//Released)

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU

Nakoa Crawford, the 7-month-old son of U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel and Kaitlyn Crawford, looks up at Capt. Nicole Lieb, 59th Medical Wing critical care air transport nurse, as she prepares him to leave the hospital for the first time June 7, 2019 in Dallas. Nakoa was transported in a flying intensive care unit aboard a C-130 Hercules to a hospital closer to where his father is stationed in San Diego. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa//Released)

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU

Maj. (Dr.) Thomas Lee, 59th Medical Wing critical care air transport team pediatrician, checks the pulse of 7-month-old patient, Nakoa Crawford, at the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, June 7, 2019. Crawford was born in Dallas at 25 weeks and has been in critical care ever since. Last week, he was determined to be stable enough for Lee and his team to fly him and his mother home to San Diego. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa//Released)

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU

Kaitlyn Crawford holds her 7-month-old son, Nakoa, at the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, June 7, 2019. Critical air transport team members explained the process of transferring her son to the Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego via C-130 Hercules. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa//Released)

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU
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Critical air transport team members from the 59th Medical Wing, emergency medical technicians and Children’s Medical Center of Dallas nurses fill the hospital room of Nakoa Crawford, June 7, 2019. The medical professionals relayed information about the patient to seamlessly transfer care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa//Released)

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU
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Capt. Nicole Lieb, 59th Medical Wing critical care air transport team nurse, and Senior Airman Analiese Heitkamp, CCATT respiratory therapist, prepare a litter to recieve 7-month-old patient, Nakoa Crawford, during a transfer to Balboa Naval Medical Center, San Diego, June 7, 2019. The teams operate a flying intensive care unit to transfer critically ill or injured patients to a hospital that can provide the elevated or specialized care they need. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa//Released)

Mother, baby flown safely after 7 months in ICU
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Critical air transport team members from the 59th Medical Wing and local emergency medical technicians walk into the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas to pick up 7-month-old patient, Nakoa Crawford, June 7, 2019. Nakoa’s transfer required a concerted effort between local EMTs, hospital, U.S. Air Force and Navy officials in Dallas, San Antonio and San Diego. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Katherine Spessa//Released)

DALLAS --

Her anxious brown eyes stare large around her. The red jump seats, wires, oxygen masks, bare sheet metal and overall cold, dark interior of a C-130 Hercules are not comforting to the young mother whose 7-month-old son is out of an intensive care unit for the first time.

Kaitlyn Crawford delivered her son Nakoa prematurely at 25 weeks old. He’s been in an ICU at the children’s hospital in Dallas, far from her home in San Diego, ever since, his health too fragile for him to be moved.

Kaitlyn quietly tells the nurse that she likes to call him “Koa.”  She keeps her arms crossed over herself and her eyes on her small child on the litter. It's difficult to hear her over the squealing engines and propellers as the pilot prepares to take off. She tells the team caring for him that he likes his pacifier, but he sometimes pushes it away. She says that she’s having a hard time, her mother passed away three days before and she’s been away from her husband and daughter for the past seven months.

After the significant and ongoing health issues Koa has experienced since being born prematurely, he was stable enough to be transported to where Kaitlyn’s husband, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Crawford, is stationed. A critical care air transport team from the 59th Medical Wing, based out of Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, was alerted to provide the specialized care needed for the June 7 mission.

“I gave up my civilian life to serve those who serve and I take it very seriously,” said Capt. Nicole Leib, CCATT nurse. “[As a nurse] I get many opportunities to be the strong one in a situation where families are falling apart from the stress.”

CCATT is a uniquely Air Force mission, a flying ICU, typically used to transport critically injured service members from a point of injury or a hospital, to a hospital where they can receive the elevated level of care they need. Comprised of a doctor, nurse and respiratory therapist, the team must pack everything they will need while airborne - echocardiogram, oxygen, blood, medicine and other tools of the trade.

Wax protects Koa’s small ears from the noise, tubes extend from his nose and are taped to his toes. His velvety brown eyes, a calmer mirror of his mother’s, look around him with fascination. The team members responsible for keeping him safe and healthy on the flight to his new home at the Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego comment on what a good baby he is being. He is accustomed to being handled, to being around strangers, to loud noises and cold places. They smile at him, talk to him. He babbles back at them.

The baby is too small for the litters usually used, so the CCATT has strapped a car seat to one slung between metal braces. Practiced in treating patients with limited space, resources and support, the team communicates via headset. Leib, and Respiratory Therapist, Senior Airman Analiese Heitkamp, stand by the baby’s side for the entire five-hour flight.

“We rely on the three of us to not only care for the patient in the air, but to care for our team members as well, and in this case, the mother too,” said Heitkamp. “No medical provider goes into medicine for selfish reasons. The amount of mutual trust and respect we have for each other is immense and of paramount importance.”

They hand his mother, who had been anxiously watching every movement, jumping up to check on Koa every few moments during the beginning of the flight, a blanket.

Exhausted, she falls asleep.

“[I wanted to] stand with Koa so his mom could find some comfort,” said Leib. “It's my hope that she did.”

The CCATT members’ job isn’t done when they land on the tarmac. In another flurry of activity, they carry the litter weighted with baby, respiratory machines and oxygen tanks from plane to ambulance, ambulance to hospital, and finally to the new neonatal intensive care unit that will be Koa’s home until he is ready to truly go home with his parents and sister.

“Every single one of us wanted to be there,” Heitkamp said. “Despite the tired faces and sweaty flight suits, we were happy to be entrusted with his care. The bright-eyed smiles he sent our way made it all worthwhile.”

She pauses on her way out of his new pastel-walled hospital room.

Pulling the CCATT patch from the sleeve of her uniform, she turns back, hands the patch to Kaitlyn.

“It was an honor to care for your son. You’re in good hands now.”

Tear-filled brown eyes look at her. Kaitlyn smiles back, nods. She says, “thank you,” and turns to Koa.

 

 
 
  
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