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Ambulance Provides Mobile Pediatric Care

MORRIS COUNTY, N.J. -- Morristown Memorial Hospital's newest ambulance carries some unlikely cargo: a teddy bear collection, a flat-screen television and a stash of DVDs that include kid favorites like "Shrek" and "Finding Nemo."

The idea is to keep the most precious cargo of all - a sick or injured child - at ease in a stressful situation.

But the most important aspect of the Nikki San Agustin mobile intensive care unit is the amount of space it has - room enough to comfortably carry an entire pediatric intensive care team with it.

At more than 26 feet long, more than 8 feet wide and more than 9 feet tall, there's also room for the parents. It can also transfer the tiniest triplets all at the same time, instead of making three separate trips. Or a mother who has just given birth can ride with her newborn if they need to go to another hospital, avoiding what can be an emotional separation.

"This is one of the most state-of-the-art ambulances in the country," said Michael Pizzano, manager of Atlantic Ambulances.

It's been making runs since the beginning of April, primarily for transferring patients between hospitals, he said. Most of the ambulance runs bring patients into Goryeb Children's Hospital at Morristown Memorial, but the vehicle can be used for other transports as well. On Memorial Day, for example, it transported a sick child from Morristown Memorial to Boston University Medical Center.

There are "very few" such transport vehicles in New Jersey, said Ernest Leva, director of the committee on emergency services for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Bristol Myers Squibb Children's Hospital in New Brunswick - where Leva is director of pediatric emergency medicine - has such a vehicle, and the most important component is that the staff travels with it are specially trained to deal with pediatric medicine.

That's the case with this vehicle, said Pizzano, who also designed the ambulance. Essentially, the ambulance brings the intensive care unit to the patient. A premature baby, for example, could be transferred between facilities while a nurse practitioner, a doctor and a respiratory therapist all attend to the baby's needs.

The $200,000 vehicle was funded by donations from two local couples, Norman and Bida San Agustin of Mendham and Robert and Susan Sameth of New Vernon.

Through a spokesperson for the Morristown Memorial Health Foundation, the Sameths declined to be interviewed. In a statement released through the foundation, Susan Sameth said, "It's heartbreaking when a child is sick, and we wanted to help make a difficult situation better."

The ambulance is named for the San Agustin's only child, their daughter Nikki, who died in 1988 on a seventh-grade ski club trip when she was struck in the head by an airborne skier.

For years, the San Agustins have lobbied for a law that that would make it mandatory for children 13 and younger to wear helmets when skiing. But Norman San Agustin also believes the delay in getting a proper transport vehicle that would have taken her to a hospital with more sophisticated facilities contributed to his daughter's death.

"If my daughter had the proper transport she would have been saved," San Agustin, a surgeon at Morristown Memorial Hospital, said. With the Nikki San Agustin Mobile Intensive Care Unit, he said, the "care (is) no less than the care that patient would receive in the intensive care unit of a major hospital."

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