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Dr. John Dykes makes emergency trip to Panama to save two-day old infant

Published: 05/09/2013

Dr. John Dykes, microbiology '05, is conducting a three-year fellowship in pediatric cardiology at Miami Children's Hospital. As a fellow, Dykes rotates through the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, Echocardiography, and inpatient and consultation services. When needed, he assists in medical transport and flies with the specialized pediatric paramedic transport team to retrieve high-risk patients. Recently, he even made an emergency trip to Panama to pick up a two-day-old baby who was suffering from a complex congenital heart disease called Transposition of the Great Arteries, a condition where the major vessels leaving the heart are switched, and oxygenated blood cannot get to the baby's systemic circulation. This is the infant-rescue story in Dykes' own words:

Due to Miami's location and reputation for exceptional cardiac care, we often get patients from other countries. I drove to the airport and boarded a jet that was specially outfitted to serve as an "air ambulance." We flew directly to Panama City, Panama, and immediately went to the hospital to pick up the baby. The team in Panama had done a wonderful job diagnosing the baby and stabilizing his abnormal heart with medications. The baby was overall stable but in critical condition and needed immediate transport to a facility that could perform the surgical correction the baby needed to live. As we raced through the streets of Panama, the baby began having problems breathing. We arrived at the airport and prior to getting on the jet, he stopped breathing adequately and had to be intubated on the runway and placed on a ventilator. He was loaded into the plane where the transport team consisting of an ICU nurse, a paramedic and myself were able to care for the baby while the pilots eagerly throttled up the plane and took off towards Miami. The father accompanied us on the flight to Miami. We continued breathing for the baby through the ventilator and monitored him closely due to his critical condition. After approximately two-and-a-half hours in the air, our plane touched down at Miami International Airport where an ambulance was waiting for us. The baby was taken directly to our Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and arrived around 3:30 in the morning. The anatomy was confirmed with a stat echocardiogram, and all preoperative diagnostic tests were performed. The baby was immediately prepped for surgery and taken to the OR that same morning, where Dr. Redmond Burke performed a very complex surgical repair of his heart. The baby's surgery went extremely well, and he returned to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit for perioperative care approximately 12 hours from the time we left Panama. While his heart was still recovering from the surgery, it was pumping blood normally for the first time in his three-day life. The entire transport from the time we left Miami to the time we returned was approximately 13 hours. The child spent a total of seven days in our Cardiac Intensive Care Unit where he was cared for by an exceptional team of doctors, nurse practitioners and nurses. On his 10th day of life, his mother and father carried him out of the hospital. He is home in Panama and doing well. While the child will never remember his trip to Miami, it serves as an example of what can be done when a team of healthcare professionals across hospitals and countries work together to save a child's life. I was blessed to be a part of this process.

The Pediatric Cardiology Program at Miami Children's Hospital has been regarded as one of the top programs in the nation for many years. MCH has one of the oldest dedicated cardiac intensive care units, and is led by Dr. Anthony Rossi. The Cardiac Catheterization Lab is well known across the country for its innovation in the field of catheter-based treatment of complex congenital heart disease. The Congenital Heart Program is led by Dr. Redmond Burke, Director of Cardiovascular Surgery and Dr. John Rhodes, Director of Cardiology.

About Dykes:
A native of Atlanta, Dykes spent time in London and San Francisco as a child. He said he chose Auburn to pursue his undergraduate degree because of his father.

"I first came to know of Auburn through my father. He was a military brat and attended a couple of dozen schools before graduating high school. For the first time in his life while at Auburn, he spent four years in the same place," explained Dykes. "He spoke of Auburn with such nostalgia and admiration. He used to say that it created options for him. I immediately knew it was a place I should look at. He would always volunteer to drive through Auburn whenever we were on a trip in the same general region. So for me, Auburn was a completely logical choice to begin a very long academic journey. I was able to see what Auburn produced through my father's success and desired this for myself."

While at Auburn, Dykes was an undergraduate teaching assistant and taught laboratory courses for general biology and basic anatomy and physiology. In addition to a rigorous academic program in microbiology, Dykes also volunteered at Mercy Medical Clinic, which provides primary care to medically underserved residents of Lee County, and participated in intramural athletics. Following graduation from Auburn, he completed medical school at Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and then went to Memphis for a general pediatric residency at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
He says COSAM helped him to establish a firm foundation for his academic career.

"When I first got to Auburn, I remember there was an informational meeting hosted by COSAM in the general chemistry building. I remember being astonished by the volume of people attending this meeting. I knew ALL these people couldn't get into medical school. I recall thinking to myself, 'What is going to make ME standout? How am I going to be at the top and get into medical school?' Looking back, I didn't really have any idea what I was getting into, but I promised myself that if given the tools, I would work harder than anyone," Dykes said. "COSAM helped educate me on what I was getting into and gave me the tools I needed to succeed. I sought out volunteer opportunities, extracurricular activities, and mentorship through COSAM. I did not have any physicians in my family, so I relied on COSAM to guide me through this process. All they asked of me was hard work and dedication, something that I was more than willing to give. The courses that I took at Auburn laid the framework for me to excel in medical school, residency, and fellowship. I remember as a medical student referring back to Dr. Wit's Mammalian physiology notes several times prior to exams."

Nearing the end of his first year of the fellowship, Dykes said he was drawn to pediatric cardiology for two reasons. First, he is a long-time supporter and volunteer for children's causes, from coaching endeavors to serving as a counselor for Camp Rainbow, a foundation dedicated to providing free camping experiences to children with or recovering from cancer. Secondly, Dykes had a desire to become involved in the very recent explosion of progress in pediatric cardiology.

"I became fascinated with the exponential progress in all fields of pediatric cardiology, from imaging to catheterization to drug therapies, fundamentally changing the outcomes for children with congenital cardiac pathologies," Dykes said. "Today, cardiologists, working with cardiothoracic surgeons, have diagnostic tools, medical therapies and interventional and surgical techniques that can extend the lives of these patients well into adulthood."

When not working, Dykes enjoys jogging, playing team sports, live music, movies, watching sports and spending time with his family in Atlanta, including his mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law.

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