Emergencies are nothing new to James Tuner. The fire chief and 33-year veteran with Ashburn (Georgia) Fire and Emergency Services is accustomed to dealing with crisis situations given his line of work. But when an emergency involved the safety and health of his one-month-old grandson, Maverick, Turner knew he had to be the one to stay calm and focused.
“Everything happened one Friday night in August, when I got a call from my daughter, Shyanne, who lives with me and my wife. She had been out of town with her newborn, Maverick, when he appeared to be falling ill. Shyanne said he was coughing and struggling for air. So, she took him to the local ER, but they were so full that they said it would be 3 ½ hours before anyone could look at him or he could get a room. She didn’t want to wait that long, so she headed home. But while on the road, Maverick started turning blue, so Shyanne called 9-11. The EMS arrived and were able to get his color back to normal but said the same thing as the ER personnel: the wait at the local hospital would be long. So, I told her to come on home and I’d take care of it,” he said.
Shyanne did what her father asked and, upon arrival, Turner took the three of them to Tift Regional Medical Center in Tifton. There, doctors aggressively tried to get Maverick’s oxygen level up to the mid-70s after diagnosing him with three viruses, including RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus).
“I told the doctor I wanted Maverick transported to Children's Egleston Hospital in Atlanta, where the doctor who was treating Maverick for his foot abnormalities could care for him. But the doctor insisted on keeping him at Tift Regional believing that he could handle the situation,” says Tuner.
Maverick was born in July 2022 with clubfoot, which causes his feet to appear twisted and even look as if they are upside down. At just four weeks old, the infant was wearing his third set of casts when he contracted the viruses that caused his breathing to deteriorate.
“By Saturday morning, the doctor at Tift came to me and said, ‘You’re right. Let’s try to transfer him (Maverick) to another hospital where he can get advanced care,’” says Turner.
From that point on, it was “all hands-on deck,” recalls Turner. “It was like the odds were stacked against us.” So, what was the problem in taking Maverick to another hospital? “Everything,” says Turner.
First, the weather. Due to severe conditions, no air medical flights could be conducted that day. Then, there was the issue of availability at Egleston, which apparently didn’t have a room open for Maverick, even if he could arrive. Egleston, however, had a relationship with Children’s Scottish Rite Hospital, also in Atlanta, but the problem was getting there. Maverick was hooked up to a breathing machine at Tift, and the machine was simply too tall to fit in a ground ambulance, which was the only means to get him to Atlanta on that day.
Both Turner and doctors at Tift continued to make calls, and just when they thought they found a provider that could transport Maverick with his breathing machine to Scottish Rite, they were met with the same problem: the breathing machine was four inches too tall for the ambulance. So, it was back to the drawing board.
“I was getting desperate,” says Turner. “I was almost thinking of transporting Maverick myself if worse came to worse.”
Fortunately, worse didn’t get too worse. On Sunday morning, like a ray of hope, Turner says the doctor at Tift informed him that Air Evac Lifeteam (AEL) in Tift County could help and had new equipment, the Bubble CPAP, that could be used on Maverick to help with his breathing while he was being transported to another hospital, Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida.
The Bubble CPAP is a non-invasive CPAP, utilizing a RAM cannula (a new nasal interface), water and oxygen. The therapy provides an alternative to prevent intubation of young patients and offers a higher level of care to pediatric intensive care units as it constantly monitors air pressure. Currently, Bubble CPAP is approved for patients under 33 pounds.
AEL was also able to transport on Sunday, itself, because the crew received approval from its medical supervisor to use the Bubble CPAP one day earlier than planned. AEL 142 is one of four bases in Georgia testing the new Bubble CPAP for the company.
“It was music to my ears,” says Turner. “I know the crew with AEL 142. I’ve interacted with them before in my own work, so I knew Maverick would be in good hands.”
The crew members of AEL 142 on that Sunday were Flight Nurse Kelly Watson, Flight Paramedic David Nunez and Pilot Jeremy Shoemake. When they flew Maverick to Florida, they made AEL history. The transport was the first of its kind for the company using the Bubble CPAP.
Turner adds that the crew explained everything to him as they boarded Maverick onto the aircraft, so Turner felt even more confident that his young grandson was going to be okay.
“It’s just a miracle that everything happened as it did,” says Turner, who reports that Maverick arrived in Florida safely and received the treatment he needed for his respiratory issues.
Today, Maverick is doing well. He’s undergone surgery and has to wear another set of casts and will soon have to wear a set of braces, 23 hours a day until he’s seven months old. After that, he’ll just have to wear the braces while he’s sleeping until he’s three or four-years old. Overall, his prognosis looks good, and Turner believes that’s largely because of AEL’s amazing service.
“These guys are pros,” says Turner. “I was never nervous about the situation because I knew they had everything under control. When all else seemed to fail, they came through. They truly are miracle workers.”