In Air Ambulance Transport, It's All About the Patient: Baby Olivia’s Story
I was archiving my email inbox the other day and found a number of emails from patients and family members for whom we’ve arranged air ambulance transport over the years. One email included a set of photos that reminded me of a really incredible story.
It was about a year ago that we got a call from Bonnie, a nurse in Northern California. She had been in the process of adopting a baby from China when she learned that there was a five-month-old baby girl at an orphanage in Guangzhou who would likely die within the month if she didn’t have heart surgery (in addition to her life-threatening heart condition, the baby also has severe pneumonia). Bonnie rushed in.
One of the many difficult questions Bonnie would face is how to get the baby girl safely from China to Stanford University Medical Center for the critical heart survey. That’s when she called us.
We ran through different options, but even the most cost effective medical air transport solution was going to be very expensive – about $250,000 for that distance and with a patient in such critical condition. So we worked (or tried to work) with Bonnie’s insurance company. But they gave us all the runaround.
At that point, Bonnie and several of her family members were in China with the baby girl, Olivia. Because of the time difference, we had our meetings with the family via Skype in the middle of the night here. We communicated with Bonnie through the family members, so Bonnie could stay at the hospital by Baby Olivia’s side.
We went through every option we had to get Baby Olivia a medical flight to the hospital at Stanford for her surgery.
For ten days, the insurance company put up every roadblock they could think of. At one point, they had actually authorized medical air transport and the air ambulance was about to take off for China, but then the insurance company rescinded. They argued that Bonnie should have the surgery done at a hospital in Beijing (obviously much closer). But not familiar with the culture or the language, Bonnie was justifiably very nervous putting her daughter on an operating table there.
For almost two weeks I woke up in the middle of the night to Skype with Bonnie’s family, running through maybe-this-would-work scenarios. At that point, it didn’t matter anymore if Baby Olivia ended up on an international medical flight we arranged. At that point, she was like family, and I wanted to be a source of support and encouragement, if not a solution.
After all of the insurance back-and-forth, in the end Bonnie felt so desperate that she simply scooped up her new baby girl and got on a commercial flight. That’s certainly not the choice we recommended – Bonnie had no medical support – though as a parent myself I understood her sense of desperation.
Fortunately, the story has a very happy ending. Within a day and a half of arriving in the United States, Baby Olivia had the heart surgery. She’s now a healthy, happy, rambunctious toddler. And we count her family as lifelong friends.