At least 10 critically ill babies from a hospital in Corpus Christi will ride out Hurricane Harvey in North Texas, where they are receiving care at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth.
They began arriving Thursday on airplanes equipped with specialized medical equipment after they were evacuated from Driscoll Children's Hospital along the South Texas coast.
"They made a wise decision to get them out as quickly as possible," said Debbie Boudreaux, director of transport for Cook Children's. "The problem keeping them there is the ventilation system they're on, the lifesaving ventilator, would not be able to be maintained without electricity."
Harvey become a major Category 4 hurricane and made landfall near Rockport late Friday. The slow-moving storm will dump several inches of rain — perhaps as much as three feet in some areas — and cause dangerous conditions in much of the southern and coastal regions of the state.
Dr. Jonathan Nedrelow, medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at Cook Children's Medical Center, said they don't typically like to move babies this fragile, but with Hurricane Harvey barreling down on the coast, it was critical.
"It would have been catastrophic for these kids to be in a place without all of the modern amenities that ICUs afford these children," Nedrelow said.
It took a village to make it happen.
"It was a team effort to use multiple different specialized pediatric transport teams to move these kids," Nedrelow said.
Four planes each carried one or two of the newborns at a time Thursday, making several flights from Corpus Christi to Meacham Airport in Fort Worth.
"It takes a talented team of nurses, paramedics and respiratory therapists to assess the needs of those babies and to be able to safely monitor those babies through the entire transport," said Cheryl Peterson, chief nursing officer at Cook Children's.
The newborns — some weighing less than a pound — will stay at the NICU for the duration of the storm.
"Some of these medications, if we stop them for longer than a minute, for longer than 30 seconds, it can be pretty detrimental to the little one. And sometimes even fatal," said Martin Hurtado, a paramedic involved with the transport.
All of the newborns made it safely to Fort Worth, but Nedrelow said their journey is far from over.
"We just don't know yet for many of the babies, because of how sick they were at the time of their transport," he said.
Nedrelow said they are now caring for about 70 babies in the NICU at Cook Children's, and they could take in more if needed.
"We're able to take care of any child, any newborn with critical needs for care and support, so we feel well prepared to take care of these children, and we have room in our neonatal intensive care unit," Peterson said.
The babies' parents are driving up from the coast to join their children at the hospital in Fort Worth.
Children's Health in Dallas provided two of the four medical transport planes needed to transport the newborns.
The other two planes are from Cook Children's and Driscoll Children's in Corpus Christi.
"We had to call in many, many people to help with this surge of babies. Ten babies all at once never happens," Nedrelow said.