Drive for life |

Drive for life

State Patrol, hospitals battle blizzard to save local baby, woman

Ten-day-old Jayme Brungardt, right, rests in the arms of her mother, Melissa, on Wednesday at the family's home. Jayme was born Feb. 15 with a condition known as autoimmune hemolytic anemia and severe case of jaundice, which required a blood transfusion. Jayme's brother Bradley, siting on the lap of the children's father, Blake, had a similar condition when he was born 19 months ago.
Brian Ray

— Within hours after Jayme Brungardt was born at 7:40 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, doctors knew there was a serious problem.

The newborn had a condition known as autoimmune hemolytic anemia – a drastic shortage of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to vital organs such as the heart and brain, caused by the body’s immune system attacking the cells. An incompatibility between the blood types of Jayme’s parents, Melissa and Blake Brungardt of Steamboat Springs, caused the anemia and a related severe form of jaundice. Jayme’s older brother Bradley, now 19 months old, had a lesser degree of similar ailments when he was born. Bradley’s history led the family’s pediatrician, Dr. Steve Ross of Sleeping Bear Pediatrics, to assess Jayme’s blood immediately after her birth 10 days ago at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Ross said Jayme’s blood count was “grossly abnormal.”

“It told us she was at enormous risk,” Ross said. “It set off fire alarms. If we had done nothing for this baby, it would have been disastrous.”

Melissa Brungardt said severe brain damage, cerebral palsy or even death could have resulted if Jayme didn’t receive a blood transfusion as soon as possible.

But the type of blood Jayme needed was not available in Steamboat.

“We didn’t have it in our blood banks,” Medical Center spokesperson Christine McKelvie said.

The hospital also did not have the blood needed for a middle-aged woman treated by Dr. Jennifer Kempers of Yampa Valley Medical Associates. Due to an ongoing illness not disclosed for confidentiality reasons, the woman had a shortage of red blood cells, like Jayme, and also had a condition called thrombocytopenia – a shortage of platelets, the part of blood that causes clotting and stops bleeding.

“She was stable, but we never knew when she might bleed,” Kempers said of the woman. “It was beneficial for her to get the platelets so she wasn’t in that danger zone.”

Ross spent the first night of Jayme’s life on the phone with the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit at The Children’s Hospital in Denver. Kempers and hospital staff monitored the woman.

Friday morning, Feb. 16, the hospital contacted Bonfils Blood Center in Denver to arrange a transport of the needed blood to Steamboat.

Then Mother Nature stepped in.

Strong winds and blowing snow closed much of Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 40, including Rabbit Ears Pass, that morning. The courier sent by Bonfils got as far as Georgetown on I-70, before road closures stopped his progress.

Meanwhile, the risks for Jayme and the hospitalized woman escalated.

But during the next few hours, hospital staff and the Colorado State Patrol coordinated a multi-faceted relay effort to get the blood to Steamboat. Sgt. Tim Maestas, based out of Frisco, led an effort to get the blood from Georgetown to Silverthorne, then drove the blood to an area just south of Kremmling, where he met Cpl. Jack DeSanti, based out of Granby.

From there, DeSanti had a choice. Take the blood over Gore Pass on Colo. Hwy. 134 to Colo. Hwy. 131, both of which were open, or drive over Rabbit Ears Pass in whiteout conditions.

DeSanti chose what he felt would be the faster route, despite the closure.

“It really wasn’t too bad on top of Rabbit Ears,” he said. “On the east side of the pass and on (U.S.) 40 near Kremmling, there was quite a bit of blowing snow. But they told us this needed to be there as fast as possible. And it’s a little bit easier going over (Rabbit Ears Pass) when there’s nobody up there.”

The Brungardt’s are happy DeSanti and the Colorado State Patrol made such a courageous, spur-of-the-moment effort.

“It was pretty scary,” Melissa Brungardt said Wednesday, bouncing Jayme on her knee at the family’s home. “And I don’t think (doctors) let us in on how serious it really was.”

Ross called the emergency blood transport “a great case” of several agencies working together, and praised staff at The Children’s Hospital for helping prevent what could have been a “terrible neurological catastrophe” for Jayme.

“Those guys are unbelievable,” he said of Children’s. “They are an invaluable resource when we are taking care of these kids up here.”

Melissa Brungardt said Jayme needs no further treatment for the anemia or jaundice – the ailments resulted from adjusting to life outside of the womb – and is “out of the woods.”

McKelvie said the middle-aged woman recovered and was released from the hospital.

“We’ve been told to transfer medical supplies before, but nothing that needed to get there this quick,” DeSanti said. “We’re just glad that we were able to make a difference.”

Kempers said the blood transport was possibly the difference between life and death.

“We didn’t really have any other option, because we couldn’t fly the patients to Denver,” Kempers said. “We would have had to cross our fingers and hope for the best.”

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail

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