It didn’t matter—Karleigh and her husband cared only that their son would be born healthy and safe. Hospital staff wheeled a tired but excited Karleigh into the operating room. But shortly afterward, Karleigh said, “everything spiralled out of control.”
Hunter was out of her womb, but he wasn’t crying. Soon, she would learn he had an enlarged heart, and was experiencing both kidney and respiratory distress. He was also a troubling shade of blue-grey—babies are supposed to “pink up” shortly after they enter the world.
As a paramedic, Karleigh knew all too well what would happen next. Hunter needed specialized care, and he’d need to fly to Victoria to get it. BC Emergency Health Services’ specialized Infant Transport Team (ITT) was soon en route.
There was just one problem: Because Karleigh had just had surgery, she wouldn’t be able to fly. Little Hunter would have to go to Victoria without her. Her anxiety climbed. How could she say goodbye so soon?
Fortunately, the ITT paramedics eased her mind, exuding calm and confidence as soon as they arrived. Before packing Hunter into their incubator for transport, Wes Bihlmayr and Fernando Grossling, both ITT veterans, took the time to carefully explain what was happening to Karleigh and her husband.
“It was like they commanded everyone’s attention,” Karleigh said. “Everyone listened to what they had to say—even the doctors. Everyone trusted them.”
Bihlmayr and Grossling also ensured Karleigh could spend a few minutes with her son before they took him aboard the waiting air ambulance—and it meant the world to Karleigh.
“I handed them my child and I was relieved,” she said. “I knew he would be okay. I trusted them with my whole life.”
Fortunately, Karleigh wasn’t separated from her family for long. Her husband flew with Hunter to Victoria General Hospital—the ITT team nearly always asks a parent to come along—and a ground ambulance was arranged so that Karleigh could join them as soon as possible.
Bihlmayr explained that Karleigh’s care and transport were just as important as Hunter’s. “You also have a second patient, which is the family,” he said. “We pride ourselves on family-centred care.”
Bihlmayr has been an ITT paramedic for seven years, and he loves it—everything from caring for some of BC’s most vulnerable patients to seeing the worry melt out of family members’ faces when he and his colleagues arrive. “People are stressed when we first get there, but within 30 minutes, they’re not. Five minutes after the aircraft takes off, the parent is usually asleep—because they realize their child is in good hands,” Bihlmayr says. “That’s one of the many reasons I do what I do right now.”
Grossling, a 25-year veteran with BCEHS, was the other ITT paramedic on Hunter’s case that day.
He echoes their team’s commitment to family-centred care. “Families are integral to their child getting better,” he said.
He also mirrors Bihlmayr’s passion. In fact, Grossling has known that the ITT team was his calling since he did a ride-along at 19 years old. He joined BCEHS as soon as he could, and well into his career, he turned down a promotion so he could set his sights on the ITT team—and it paid off.
“It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my ambulance career,” he said. He’s been part of the ITT team for 10 years, and has every intention of staying put.
The ITT team responds to 3,000 calls per year. Based at BC Children’s and Women’s Hospitals, they are the second-busiest base in British Columbia.
Contrary to what their name might suggest, infants, or what they call neonates, make up just 45 per cent of their calls. Another 15 per cent are high-risk mothers, many of whom need treatment at BC Women’s Hospital, and the rest are children up to the age of 17. They’re the only paramedic unit in the world that specializes in all three patient types.
As Karleigh watches Hunter, now a healthy and happy two-month-old, grow, she feels gratitude for the ITT team, who helped make what might have been a terrible day a hopeful and peaceful one.
“You just trust everything you have to these two people,” she said. “I’d say they’re probably some of the best out there.”