Shelby and care teamSeven years ago, Shelby was hospitalized with respiratory failure at the Cherese Mari Laulhere Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. It was due to a complication with her cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is an inherited respiratory condition that damages the lungs and digestive systems. Many cystic fibrosis patients may eventually require a lung transplant, which was the case for Shelby.

As Shelby’s condition worsened, she urgently needed to be transported to an area hospital with pediatric organ transplants. The Miller Children’s & Women’s PICU care team worked diligently to find a hospital willing to consider transplant as an option for Shelby. The team finally found a location that could take her case, but there was a catch.

Due to Shelby’s extreme condition, she was on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – a machine that pumps and oxygenates a patient's blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest. An added challenge – ECMO machines are quite large and heavy and are meant to be stationary by a patient’s bed – not something you could easily transport when moving a patient from one hospital to another. The Miller Children’s & Women’s PICU team had never transported a patient while on ECMO before.

The team pulled together to figure out how to transport her along with the ECMO machine. The key to their success involved the help of a larger team, one ambulance for Shelby and the machine and a second ambulance for backup equipment, and a police escort in tow. Fortunately, Shelby was able to arrive to the hospital for the lifesaving transplant she needed.

“Shelby’s situation showed us how much we can accomplish if we work together as a team,” said Alireza Fathi, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.P., medical director, Pediatric Transport Program, MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s. “Members of our transport team, the doctors, nurses and respiratory care practitioners strived to accomplish something we’ve never done before in order to save a child’s life.” 

Recently, Shelby, now 24-years-old, reunited with the PICU and Cystic Fibrosis Center teams to thank the individuals who saved her life. The Cystic Fibrosis Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s is one of the largest in the region and provides comprehensive care including evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment for children from birth to age 21, with cystic fibrosis. Shelby also gave a heartfelt speech about her journey and time spent at Miller’s Children’s & Women’s.

“My journey as a transplant patient has not been the easiest. I always make sure to have those moments to appreciate what I have. If there’s one thing the doctors at Miller Children’s & Women’s have taught me, it’s to be thankful. I would not be where I am today without the care team that dedicated so much time and effort in helping me thrive,” said Shelby.

Now, Shelby is a college graduate and serves as an advocate for other cystic fibrosis patients. She participates in public speaking and is very active in fundraising for organizations like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

“Shelby is doing great after her lung transplant. She is able to live an active life and accomplish many things, and it’s amazing to be able to see her share her story with others,” said Dr. Fathi. “It was very touching to have her to come back and visit the team. So many people here know about her story and what she’s gone through. Her story is a reminder of why we do what we do every day."