Parents save baby's life thanks to simulator training

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The parents of an 8-month-old say they could be planning their baby's funeral if not for the simulation training program at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Hector Roche and Victoria Rodriguez say more than 30 hours of training on a state-of-the-art simulator saved their child's life.

Little Lucciano Roche gets help to breathe through a tracheotomy, breathing tube, and at-home ventilator.

Eleven days ago, his breathing tube became completely blocked.

"We saw his lips turn blue, we saw his chest wasn't rising, and that's when instinct kicked in," Hector recalls.

Victoria says extensive training allowed their muscle memory to take over at a time when panic was setting in.

"Just hesitating for a few seconds means the difference between life or death," Victoria says.  

"Either life or death or brain damage because of loss of oxygen would cause brain damage," adds Roche.

To instill that muscle memory, respiratory therapist Julia Krzyzewski uses an infant-sized mannequin that's attached to the same type of equipment Lucciano and his parents have at home. 

Before they began managing Lucciano's care at home, his parents were taught how to respond to the exact emergency situation that almost took his life, within the dedicated simulation center. 

The training taught them how to disconnect his ventilator and attach a breathing bag, plus it instructed them on ways to clear or replace the tube. 

The simulation also included learning the proper way to perform chest compressions on an infant; something they also had to use to revive Lucciano. 

It’s a task they would never have been able to practice on their own child.

"Prior to having simulation available, we really didn't have a way to get them to practice those things and put their hands to work with what their mind already knows," says Krzyzewski.  

Neonatal specialist Dr. Jennifer Arnold directs the simulation program at the hospital.

Dr. Arnold remembers the days before simulators made their way into hospitals, and says their benefit goes beyond the technical training.

"Up until simulation, parents were learning how to care for their child, on their child, and I've seen, first and foremost, a decreased level of anxiety and increased confidence in their ability to care for their child [after the simulator training]."  

While it's too soon to know just how many lives programs like this save, Arnold says, based on the feedback she's getting, it's working.  

"When I hear stories from my patients or providers about how simulation can save a life, that makes me thrilled because that's why I love what I do. It's all about saving lives," Arnold explains.

Lucciano’s parents say their case is a perfect example of the benefit. 

"This saved his life. If it wasn't for the simulation, if it wasn't for the training that we had, we wouldn't have known what to do," Rodriguez says.  

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is expanding its training program into a 14,000-square-foot space this fall. It will be part of the new Research and Education Building

Part of that space will be dedicated to training parents in a simulated home environment. Dr. Arnold hopes to eventually extend simulator training to community members, including first responders.