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3-Year-Old Flown to Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital for Emergency Neurosurgery


September 2004 — When 3-year-old Gabriel ran up behind his father who was hitting golf balls on the beach, his whole world changed. "I heard the thump, but didn't realize at first what had happened," says Gabriel's father, Reynolds. "He was still conscious when I picked him up but his skull was depressed and he was bleeding profusely."

"We had come from California to visit my parents in Freeport, Bahamas, and it was our last day of vacation," says Reynolds. "We could see that this was a very serious head injury, so we rushed him to Rand Memorial Hospital, a primitive facility compared to what we're used to in the United States. Dr. John Clemens, who lived across the street from my parents, knew that Freeport was not equipped to handle this type of injury and helped arrange for transport to the States." Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Air Transport Team answered the call.

Taking Charge

While the Freeport hospital staff attempted to locate the one person who knew how to operate their newly acquired computerized tomography (CT) scanner, Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital Air Transport Team prepared for departure. Unfortunately, a huge tropical storm was moving in. "I couldn't believe we were going through this nightmare. It all seemed straight out of a movie, particularly the hard storm. The physicians in Freeport were very concerned, but couldn't determine the extent of Gabriel's injuries or properly treat him. If this had happened in the U.S., Gabriel would have been in surgery within 30 minutes," says Reynolds.

The moment the storm cleared, the transport team — consisting of Gerald J. Lavandosky, M.D., FAAP, FCCP, Air Transport Team Administrator and pediatric intensivist on the medical staff
at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, Memorial Regional Hospital and Memorial Hospital West and Alison Davis, PA-C, a certified physician assistant at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital — headed for Freeport. "Dr. Lavandosky and Alison were absolutely phenomenal!" says Reynolds. "They burst into the Emergency Department and completely took charge. They prepped Gabriel for travel and explained everything as they put Gabriel and my wife, Wendy, into the ambulance and onto the plane. They also told us that there was a room at the Conine Clubhouse ready for us. Dr. Lavandosky and Alison were our knights in shining armor."

Alison remembers the night of Gabriel's transport very well. "We took immediate responsibility for Gabriel," says Alison. "We brought our own staff and all our own equipment, down to the alcohol pads. We assessed Gabriel's stability for transport and worked to get him on the plane as fast as possible. Airspace at take-off and landing were immediately cleared for us."

After dashing to Florida in what felt like a "ride in a Ferrari," according to Reynolds, the team went straight from the plane and into the ambulance to Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital for emergency surgery. "Gabriel's parents found themselves in a frightening set of circumstances, in a developing country with limited resources," says Dr. Lavandosky. "It made all the difference that we could provide this specialized transport service."

Gerald J. Lavandosky, MD

Gerald J. Lavandosky, MD
Air Transport Team
Pediatric Intensivist
Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital
Memorial Regional Hospital
Memorial Hospital West

Ceslovas Vaicys, MD

Ceslovas Vaicys, MD
Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital
Memorial Hospital West
Memorial Hospital Pembroke

Alison Davis, PA-C

Alison Davis, PA-C
Physician Assistant
Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital

Emergency Surgery

Ceslovas Vaicys, MD, neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Memorial Regional Hospital, Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, Memorial Hospital West and Memorial Hospital Pembroke, was the first to meet the family when they arrived. "Understandably Gabriel's parents were very stressed," says Dr. Vaicys. "I explained the cranioplasty procedure I would use to reconstruct his skull. The surgery took about an hour-and-a-half, and I was confident of a full recovery."

"I watched the clock move as we waited for what seemed like forever. After Dr. Vaicys told us Gabriel would be okay, we went to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) to spend the night by Gabriel's side. He was up and talking the next morning," says Reynolds. "Everyone we encountered at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital was amazing. We truly felt like the doctors and nurses kept a special eye on Gabriel, which was tremendously comforting to us. When you are more than 2,000 miles away from home without a normal support system, it is hard. They helped us get through."

When Gabriel was discharged two days later, the family remained at the Conine Clubhouse for several days so Dr. Lavandosky and Dr. Vaicys could continue to monitor him. "The experience at the Clubhouse was outstanding," says Reynolds. "Living with other families and seeing their strength as they coped deeply touched us." Gabriel continued to heal at a fairly fast rate. In fact, only three days after surgery, he and his older brother, Arthur, were jumping on their beds at the Clubhouse. "You never would have known there was a thing wrong except for the bandage on his head," says Reynolds.

Everyday Heroes

As Gabriel enters the first grade, his parents count their blessings. "Before the accident, we knew what was most important. Yet after the accident, we became even more finely tuned. It all happened so quickly, but we got very, very lucky. There was no brain damage. Gabriel swims, plays hockey, squash and baseball. He even says he's ready to learn golf now."

Alison still keeps in touch with the family. On her desk is a photograph of Gabriel in his hockey uniform. "She is part of our life," says Reynolds. "I'm sure Alison, Dr. Lavandosky and Dr. Vaicys — along with the rest of the team — have touched hundreds of lives with their devotion and professionalism. They are our heroes and forever will be."