By Emily Williams
With funds raised at Saturday’s 10th annual Boiling N’ Bragging, a partnership between Rotary clubs and Children’s of Alabama’s Critical Care Transport is even closer to their goal of raising $1 million goal for the transporting of critically ill children to obtain medical care.
“We treat about 1,000 patients each year,” said Jason Peterson, Children’s Critical Care Transport coordinator and flight nurse. “When you look at how many patients Children’s treats in a year, that doesn’t seem like very many, but we are treating those patients who are really really sick or really really injured. To their parents and families, each one counts for a whole lot.”
The idea for the event came up when a group of Rotarians in District 6860 got together to discuss ways the district could promote itself through one signature service project in which all the 50 participating clubs in North and Central Alabama could take part.
“Children’s of Alabama is an organization that is widely respected for caring for children, and this seemed to be a good fit with the humanitarian efforts of Rotary, especially in the area of maternal and child health,” said District 6860 Gov. Carol Argo. “After discussing with staff of Children’s, Rotary District 6860 determined that we could make a significant impact by raising awareness and funds to support Critical Care Transport.”
Every county and club in the district, as well as the entire state, is touched by Children’s Critical Care Transport program, which was created 35 years ago to transport critically ill pediatric and neonatal patients who require the kind of specialized care that regular emergency medical services are not able to provide.
Peterson, who has been with the program for 24 years, said the Boiling N’ Bragging event and Rotary partnership has been a benefit to Rotary as well as his organization.
“It’s all about exposure,” he said. “We’ve helped promote Rotary through this partnership and they help promote us, because a lot of people don’t realize that we are a part of Children’s of Alabama.”
The Boiling N’ Bragging event was born out of an effort to create a family-friendly fundraiser that wasn’t run-of-the-mill.
“We love football in the South, so a pre-season tailgate to kick off football season sounded like the ticket for a successful event. Add burgers and hotdogs and a low country boil, and it all makes for a great event,” Argo said.
In its first year, the tailgate was held inside Otey’s Tavern, with about 30 people participating.
“We quickly outgrew that venue and extended into the parking lot,” she said. “This year we have about 130 volunteers alone signed up to help with the event.”
In addition, Argo said, the Rotary Club of Greater Huntsville chartered a bus to take its members to the event.
“The highlights of the event for everyone are when the helicopter does a flyover, and we meet the CCT team and tour the CCT ambulance on site,” Argo said. “This is how we know that our efforts have been validated.”
Saving Kids Gets Expensive
Before this year’s event, the partnership had generated more than $760,000 for the Critical Care Transport program. According to Peterson, those funds are essential in covering the program’s operating costs, which gets quite pricey since they are not only traveling on the ground, but by air as well.
In the beginning, the team consisted of one mobile ICU ambulance and, when needed, UAB’s twin-engine jet airplane for long-distance transport. Today, the program has tacked on a helicopter, which allows teams to fly directly to and from hospitals, and three more MICU ambulances, which allow the team to operate when the weather prevents safe helicopter flight.
“I ran the numbers the other day and, it’s interesting. There are 17 of us on the team, both full time and part time, and, collectively, we have 250 years of experience,” Peterson said. “So, we are a very tenured staff. Not anybody can just hop on and do what we do, from an experience level, so everyone on our staff has greater than 15 years of experience.”
Outside of transporting critical patients to Children’s, the program sends its staff to treat high-risk patients across the state and throughout the Southeast, even taking on international flights on occasion. This takes Children’s of Alabama’s expertise to facilities throughout the state that may not otherwise have the knowledge or equipment needed.
“It’s known that, in most any clinical situations, one of the most important things to you at that time is that time is of the essence,” Peterson said. “What we are able to do is start time-sensitive treatments as soon as possible. We are at those patients’ bedsides and we can get them into the operating rooms quicker.”
According to Argo, the transport service had a direct benefit for one of Rotary’s assistant governors when his child had to be airlifted to Children’s.
There are plans to add some ambulances in the near future; but farther out on the horizon, Peterson said, there may be the chance to transform a helicopter into an MICU, cutting down on the amount of equipment that needs to be loaded and unloaded for each trip.
Through the continued partnership with Rotary District 6860 and the funding from this year’s Boiling N’ Bragging, the Critical Care Transport program can continue to work toward its goals near and far.