Seven-day-old Joshua Williams, above, was rushed aboard a C-17 Globemaster transport jet headed to Texas last night for emergency treatment. Williams is in an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation transport, which is basically a heart/lung bypass machine.

Flight to survive

By Rod Antone

Joshua Juan Ruiz Williams Jr. was born 2 a.m. last Friday at Tripler Army Medical Center.

At 2:01 a.m., Josh's father knew something was wrong.

"As soon as he came out, people started running around," said Army Sgt. J.J. Williams. "Then we found out. It was devastating."

Joshua was suffering from a rare kind of respiratory disease caused by a meconium contamination of the lungs after the baby breathed in its own stool in the womb. Doctors said Joshua had a 10 percent chance of survival.

"The whole time you think the baby's fine, then you find out something is really wrong," said Williams, a Tripler Nuclear Medicine technician. "It's crushing."

But that was last week.

Now doctors are giving a 90 percent chance of survival thanks to an unprecedented medical transport out of Hickam Air Force Base last night.

Concerned parents Gizette and J.J. Williams watched their son secured inside the jet.

To prepare for the eight-hour flight to Texas where he will get additional treatment, Joshua was connected yesterday morning to a machine that is no bigger than a shopping cart. Doctors say the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation transport, or ECMO, will help keep the baby alive while they transport him.

"We had to get him on this machine," said Lt. Col. Brian Hall.

Dr. Hall said the ECMO removes the infant's blood and oxygenates it with an artificial lung before pumping it back into the baby's body. The process gives the lungs a chance to heal.

"Now that he's on, he goes from having a 10 percent chance of survival to a 90 percent chance of survival or better," Hall said.

Hall is part of a special Neonatal Critical Care Transport Team, composed of six doctors, four nurses and two respiratory technicians, who are like a small emergency room team.

During the flight to Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, the team will make sure Joshua's lungs are pumping, blood circulating and temperature stable. All of this takes place in the belly of a C-17 Globemaster transport jet while flying at an altitude of about 28,000 feet.

"This baby is going to get a lot of special attention," said team Senior Master Sgt. Steven Hobbs. "We're going to take care of him."

Once Joshua was taken off the ambulance and onto the C-17, the team worked furiously, strapping the ECMO to the floorboards so he will not shift, connecting oxygen tubes and the incubator. The whole process took less than 10 minutes before the 9 p.m. takeoff.

"We're still not out of the woods yet," said Williams, who, along with wife Gizette, was on the plane with their son. "He was stable enough to start this ECMO treatment, but it's up to him whether his lungs will heal or not.

"But all this has been amazing. There's more people here than I could ever thank. They're doing everything for us to try and save our baby, and I would give anything for any of these people."

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