East Tenn. Children's Hospital raising money for Lifeline ambulance system

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- When minutes matter most and a child's life is on the line, instead of rushing them to the hospital, East Tennessee Children's Hospital brings the hospital to the child. That ability comes with a price tag, though--which is why ETCH needs help raising $250,000 for a new Lifeline ambulance.

"It's called the 'Baby Bus' affectionately over the years," Children's Hospital Lifeline Manager Greg Bohanon told Local 8 News.

Lifeline is more than an ambulance--it was designed to be an entire intensive care unit on wheels, specially designed with equipment and staff to start treatment at the moment a patient enters. From critically ill babies to teens and young adults, the ambulance gives responders the ability to provide care as if the patient was already in the hospital.

"I call it the 'giant Swiss Army knife,'" Bohanon said. "It has a lot of features to it. It's set up a lot like a motor home. It is an ambulance, but it has an independent generator system, it's a rolling hospital room."

That room has its own oxygen supply and life support system as well. It's the only ambulance in the area that can transport twins or two babies at one time.

Trained teams are placed on standby at all times, including extra nurses and doctors who are ready to provide care if needed.

"Our team is in house, and we can leave within 10 minutes if needed," Tracie Savage, the nurse manager of the NICU at Children's Hospital, said. "It's very important that if we get a call and one ambulance is out on a call and we get that second call, we can leave immediately and have the means to get to that really sick infant."

ETCH is the only hospital within 100 miles to have a Lifeline system, but time and use have required that the hospital purchase a new system. They are custom built and cost three times more than a normal ambulance -- they also can take up to six months to build.

"$250,000 is a lot of money, but the life of a child, there's no dollar amount you can put to that," Savage said. "If it was my child, grandchild, there's no other ambulance I'd want to come get my child other than Lifeline."

The system was also designed to include total body cooling, a treatment that can reverse a possible brain injury after traumatic birth. ETCH has seen babies who have this treatment go home after several days as compared to several months in the NICU.

"The fact that we can go around traffic in this ambulance, get there as soon as we get, and get this therapy started at the scene and the baby is actually cooling all the way back to Children's, so we've actually started that therapy and treatment early on--that wouldn't be the case with any other ambulance except for Lifeline," Savage said.

ETCH hosted a Radiothon that gave East Tennesseans an opportunity to help. From 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 15, Radiothon 2018 broadcasted live on 107.7 WIVK and NewsTalk 98.7 WOKI.

An ETCH spokesperson said Thursday night that the radiothon raised $140,207 for the Lifeline system.