Patient care, advocacy are powerful bedfellows

Jimmy Kimmel's story reminds us of the breadth of EMS' commitment to our patients

By Carissa B. Caramanis

As a mom and an EMT with a similar story, I was touched by Jimmy Kimmel's emotional monologue about his newborn son Billy. With more than 10 million YouTube views, it’s a critical reminder of two underlying messages.

First, just like Kimmel, I recognized no child makes it through a serious health issue without an amazing care team; and second, anyone in a caregiving role, whether as a parent or a professional health care provider, should accept that part of that role includes patient advocacy.

Caramanis' daughter shortly after her premature birth.
Caramanis' daughter shortly after her premature birth. (Courtesy photo)

Kimmel’s story was particularly personal for me because while he and his family welcomed Billy into the world and were quickly thrust into the scariest time of their lives, I was reflecting on my own experience. You see, that same week, I celebrated my daughter's birthday, who was born with the same heart defect 11 years earlier.

I was all too familiar with Kimmel’s story because I had lived much of it myself. It was a scary time, but after receiving excellent care, my daughter also came through and is a healthy girl today.

Congenital heart defects, like Tetralogy of Fallot, the condition affecting both Kimmel’s son and my daughter, are the most common birth defect, affecting nearly one in every 100 births. Approximately 40,000 congenital heart surgeries are performed each year in the United States and it is estimated that as many as 3 million people live with congenital heart disease in the United States.

Tetralogy of Fallot is a serious congenital heart defect affecting about two in 10,000 babies. In TOF, abnormal connections between the ventricles prevent enough oxygen-poor blood from flowing to the lungs. The four cardiac anatomic characteristics of TOF are:

1. Ventricular septal defect

There is a hole between the right and left ventricles of the heart.

2. Right ventricular outflow tract obstruction

The connection between the right ventricle and pulmonary artery is narrowed, and blood flow to the lungs is blocked. This is what causes babies to be blue.

3. Overriding aorta

The artery that connects the left ventricle to the body is positioned too far to the right.

4. Right ventricular hypertrophy

The right ventricle is thicker than normal, because it’s pumping against a blockage and, therefore, working too hard.

Early recognition of a congenital heart defect

The Kimmel family was fortunate to have a nurse who quickly recognized their son’s condition and activated a skilled care team that ultimately performed the needed heart repair. Billy's recovery will come with other surgeries and a lifetime of follow-up, as has my daughter’s, but they will have the benefit of a highly-trained and coordinated care team who will ensure his care stays on track.

In addition to nurses, paramedics and EMTs serve this critical role every day all around the world. Early recognition of a critical condition saves countless lives, and few will end up being featured in a viral video, but all are immensely important.

Patient care and advocacy

Something more was born the day Billy came into the world – a family of advocates – and Kimmel, with the loudest and farthest-reaching platform, will be chief among them. But their nurse started it all by advocating for her patient. And now the Kimmels, countless others who were touched by their story, many who donated to children's hospitals as a result, and anyone else with a similar story will become advocates too.

We in EMS must advocate for the most vulnerable of our patients – not just children, but the elderly, disabled and other special populations too. Caring is in the job description, but the advocate part is in the commitment you make to your profession and to the patients you serve.

In a time of uncertainty for our nation’s health care legislation and what that might mean for insurance coverage and access to quality of care for many populations, we must hold steady to the highest of professional standards in EMS, including caring for and advocating for patients at every turn.

About the author
Carissa Caramanis is an EMT, creative thinker, problem solver and digital consultant to EMS. She advises many health care and EMS clients on the ideal use of digital marketing and social media to achieve their systems objectives. Find her on Twitter at @CarissaO.

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