Time is crucial for a traumatic brain injury especially for Annie Nichols who was four at the time of her accident. When she slipped and hit her head in the garage, her parents, Kelsey and Billy, didn’t think much of it. “It was a bad fall,” Billy said. “She cried, but it wasn’t the worst thing you’ve ever heard.” But later that day when Annie starting screaming in pain, they immediately rushed her to Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital in Murrells Inlet, where she had to be placed on a breathing machine to hold her airway open.
The emergency team in Murrells Inlet connected through telehealth with the pediatric ICU team at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) hospital in Charleston. They worked together to assess Annie’s situation and stabilize her brain’s swelling, so that she could fly to MUSC for emergency surgery. Within eight minutes of landing in Charleston, surgeons had removed the blood from Annie’s brain. “That was one of the things that saved Annie’s life,” Billy said. “If she had been flown there, and had not been seen by the MUSC doctors, she would’ve had to go back through the ER, been evaluated by their team, and then gone into surgery.” This delay would have been life threatening, and Dr. David McSwain, the director of MUSC’s Pediatric Critical Care telehealth program, says Annie’s story is a perfect example of how telehealth can improve patient care in the most critical moments. “[Annie] is the type of patient that we built this program for,” McSwain said.