Minneapolis nurse saves baby thanks to extra training

A split-second decision by a Twin Cities nurse helped to save a baby’s life.

Nancy Harlow-Barnum, a pediatric home care nurse, was caring for a 1-year-old girl in Minneapolis who’d had a tracheostomy, or breathing tube, since birth.

Harlow-Barnum said one night she heard the baby cough in her sleep.

"Then her alarm went off, telling me her oxygen was dropping a little bit," Harlow-Barnum said.

The nurse said she peered into the child’s crib and noticed the baby did not appear to be in distress and her skin color looked normal, but she said she had a gut feeling something was not right.

Harlow-Barnum rolled the baby over and realized the tracheostomy tube had fallen out.

"There’s a lot of things that could’ve happened if we didn’t remedy the situation very quickly," Harlow-Barnum explained.

She said she had encountered this exact situation during a training exercise at Pediatric Home Service just a few months prior to the emergency with her patient.

Pediatric Home Service is a children’s home health care agency, currently serving 5,000 patients in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The agency’s headquarters in Roseville has a high-tech simulation laboratory where nurses can train for medical emergencies with life-like child simulators from Gaumard Scientific.

"We have to prepare them for the emergencies that might happen," said Judy Giel, chief clinical officer at Pediatric Home Service. "It creates this muscle memory. Not that you use it every day, but if you need to, it comes like that."

Harlow-Barnum said, in her initial training exercise involving a child simulator, known as Pediatric Hal, who was struggling to breathe, her team failed the simulation.

"You would think you would check the trach first. We didn’t," Harlow-Barnum said. "This simulation lab proved that it doesn’t matter how often you do it or how skilled you are, mistakes can happen at any time. That’s why you practice."

Harlow-Barnum said the failed exercise stuck with her and she vowed she would never let the mistake happen in real life.

A few months later, she was put to the test at her patient’s home and realized she was grateful for the mistake she made in the lab because she immediately knew what to do.

"I 100% feel like this mistake changed the course of that child’s life," Harlow-Barnum said. "If I wouldn’t have known to check for that, I would’ve been doing all the wrong things in those critical moments."