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  February 20, 2001

Health Center Column
The team that saved a baby's life during a nor'easter set us all an example of the personal commitment that makes a difference in our professional lives.

Having lived all my life in New England, I have observed time and again how the worst of winter storms seem to bring out the best in people. The nor'easter that came through the region a few weeks ago on Feb. 5 provided a setting that once more confirmed this phenomenon of human nature.

Image: Peter J. Deckers
Peter J. Deckers

This time, however, the situation was unusually dramatic, because a newborn's life was at stake and a number of Health Center people were determined to make a difference.

With more than a foot of snow already on the ground, Health Center firefighter and paramedic P.J. Roche received a telephone call at his home in Newington during the height of the storm. Roche owns a four-wheel drive vehicle and often signs up to transport Health Center employees who have difficulty getting to and from work during bad weather. But the caller described a need very different from what P.J. expected.

About an hour earlier, in Sharon Hospital, Caleb Gilbert had been born by caesarian section more than five weeks premature. The baby boy, weighing less than four pounds, was having difficulty breathing and was in need of the advanced care provided in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Because of the storm's severity, the Life Star helicopter was grounded and the Health Center's specially equipped neonatal transport vehicles were off line, making it impossible to bring the child safely to our NICU. So instead, it was decided to bring the NICU to Caleb.

P.J. immediately agreed to help. He soon picked up physician Puneet Sharma, neonatal nurse Jill Beliveau, respiratory therapist Mardi Hayden, and a ventilator and other equipment, and headed toward Sharon.

The trip from Farmington to the western edge of the state normally takes a little more than an hour, but treacherous road conditions that night nearly tripled the travel time and turned the ride into quite an adventure. The team finally arrived at their destination around 11 p.m. and quickly began caring for Caleb, whose condition had unfortunately worsened in the meantime.

Before long, however, Sharma and the rest of the team stabilized the child. They then stayed in the hospital during the night to monitor their patient's progress. The opinion was shared that, had the Health Center team not been able to get to Sharon, Caleb might not have been strong enough to survive the night.

The following morning, with the storm over and the roads cleared, Caleb was transported in stable condition to the Health Center, where he has continued to improve.

Learning of this extraordinary team effort in the days that followed the storm affirms my long-held belief that there is no greater source of pride at the Health Center than that which is created by the personal commitment of our people.

I spend a great deal of time talking to elected officials, community leaders and others about the goodness generated here. I am not even slightly embarrassed to be among the Health Center's most outspoken cheerleaders when it comes to expounding on the benefits the people of this state receive from our educational, research and clinical endeavors.

Having said that, all the outstanding programs, centers of excellence and service lines we have are what they are for one reason: because our people have the personal commitment to make them truly special, day in and day out. The commitment I speak of exists not just on sunny spring afternoons, but also during one of the worst snow storms we have had in years.

Granted, many of us at the Health Center are not in positions where we provide direct care to patients, and so most of us will not face situations as potentially dramatic as the one I described above. It really does not matter though, because the point of this message has nothing to do with drama. It is about dedication, and the betterment we can create when we are truly dedicated, regardless of our responsibilities.

You certainly don't need me to reiterate how important a sense of dedication is to what you do at work, at home and everywhere in between. I expect your parents, teachers and others you looked up to did a fine job of instilling that notion into your very being a long, long time ago.

But if it has been a while since you took the time to examine your dedication to your daily work, perhaps the examples set by P.J. Roche, Puneet Sharma, Jill Beliveau and Mardi Hayden will prove helpful.

The Health Center will continue to be an exceptionally good place because of the skill, expertise and knowledge of its people. With dedication too, we can be far greater.

Be peaceful.