Children's Hospital's Lifeline ambulance is a custom-made neonatal/pediatric transport vehicles equipped like a mobile intensive care unit. It is designed to bring in premature babies and other pediatric patients from hospitals in surrounding areas. Enough supplies are on the ambulance that any size patient, from a premature infant to a 21-year-old can be cared for upon transfer to the Children's Hospital NICU or PICU. Lifeline answers makes more than 400 transports and travels more than 40,000 miles each year.
In 2019, after a successful fund-raising campaign, a new Lifeline ambulance was created to replace an older model which had racked up over 305,000 miles.
Instead of rushing a patient to the hospital, the hospital is sent to the patient. Our Lifeline ambulances are a vital part of the lifesaving care we provide to children in East Tennessee.
Level of Care
- Lifeline transports the smallest babies (weighing as little as a pound) to teenagers and young adults. Children’s Hospital treats birth to age 21. Lifeline carries equipment to treat all ages and all sizes.
- The Lifeline team is highly skilled. The team consists of an EMT/paramedic as the driver. In the back, there is always a specially trained transport nurse and a respiratory therapist. Depending on the severity of the patient, doctors, nurse practitioners, and more nurses may join the team.
- These are the only ambulances in the area that can transport twins or two babies at once. In this case, another nurse and respiratory therapist join the team, making a total of five highly-trained caregivers on-board if not more.
- Just like in an intensive care unit, there are backup systems in place should the need arise. Lifeline has its own generator, oxygen tanks, suction, and other monitoring systems required for life support.
- Lifeline is more child-friendly than routine ambulances. For older patients, they have an iPad and the ability to play movies during longer transports.
- Lifeline is capable of ventilator/life support, giving IV fluids, drawing blood for lab work to reduce wait time once a patient arrives at Children’s Hospital, monitoring capabilities, total body cooling and more.
- The transport service at Children’s Hospital began in 1980 with the first Lifeline ambulance; there have been four ambulances since then, making our newest ambulance Lifeline 5.
- The average ambulance costs approximately $80,000. Lifeline - a custom, critical-care ambulance - is three times more expensive that what a normal ambulance costs.
- Children’s Hospital is the only hospital in Knoxville (and within 100 miles) to have ambulances of this caliber.
- At any given time, there are two transport teams at-the-ready at Children’s Hospital. The team that goes depends on the age of the patient. Children’s Hospital has a team for neonatal babies and a team for pediatric patients available 24/7.
- Lifeline is designed specifically for babies and children, and it provides the space and electrical outlets needed for all of the specialized equipment needed for these patients.
- The newest ambulance features a new safety mechanism that will increase the stabilization of the cot carrying the patient during transport.
Where They Travel
- Lifeline is an intensive care unit on wheels. While our team may rush to get to a hospital, once the patient is on-board, the team focuses on the stability of the patient. With the high skill level of staff and the equipment they have at their fingertips, Lifeline is rarely in emergency traffic on the way back to Children’s Hospital. They can treat patients just as if they were in the ICU.
- The Lifeline is a facility-to-facility transport ambulance; it travels to hospitals in East Tennessee to pick up critically ill newborns and pediatric patients.
- Lifeline is called for more than 400 transports and travels more than 40K miles annually.
- The average trip is 50-60 miles one-way, traveling to hospitals in communities such as Morristown, Sevierville, Crossville, and Oak Ridge.
- Lifeline travels to more than 25 hospitals throughout East Tennessee. Lifeline and the crew are also equipped to travel longer distances. On average, they make a trip to Kentucky, Nashville or the Tri-Cities at least once a week.
- The average transport takes 3-4 hours. Once the transport team arrives, the patient is stabilized and brought back to Children’s Hospital.
Total Body Cooling
- Total body cooling is treatment for babies who go without oxygen or decreased blood flow to the brain for an amount of time during birth.
- This process places newborns on a water-filled cooling mattress to reduce the body temperature for three days. This is long enough to reverse possible brain injury. After three days, the newborn returns to a normal body temperature in the NICU with continuous monitoring.
- The sooner a baby begins cooling after a traumatic birth, the better the outcome. Often, the referring hospital is more than an hour away. Lifeline is the only ambulance in the area to offer total body cooling beginning at transport—where minutes matter the most.
- With this technology, Children’s Hospital has seen infants leave in as little as 10 days where otherwise they would have expected them to be in the NICU for months.