N.C. Children's Airway Center

The N.C. Children's Airway Center was established in 2007 to treat children with complex airway problems. This multidisciplinary center is one of only a handful the in country and provides cutting-edge care to children throughout the Southeast.

Written with contributions by: Kathy Abode RN, MPH

Imagine this scenario: Walking through the Children’s Hospital lobby, you hear a voice over the intercom: “Newborn Airway Emergency, Newborn Critical Care Center, Pod G.”

You scan the lobby, perhaps expecting a stampede of doctors to sprint past. No frantic doctors materialize, however, and as everyone goes about their business, you move on, too, the page soon forgotten. At the same time, four floors up the elevator, a group of healthcare professionals from the N.C. Children’s Airway Center has sprung into life-saving action, calmly and professionally addressing the emergency at hand.

About the Airway Center

The N.C. Children's Airway Center is a multi-disciplinary group treating patients with complex airway issues.So who are these superheroes that respond to newborn airway emergencies? They are members of the N.C. Children’s Airway Center, a multidisciplinary group representing various areas in the Children’s Hospital. The center includes otolaryngologists and head and neck surgeons, pediatric pulmonologists, respiratory therapists, social workers, speech therapists, advanced practice nurses and registered nurses.

The team does much more than answer airway emergency pages. They routinely perform laryngoscopies and bronchoscopies, esophageal pH/impedance monitoring, pediatric imaging, infant/child pulmonary function testing, gastrointestinal endoscopies and sleep disorder testing.

The N.C. Children’s Airway Center was developed in September 2007 with the help of a grant from the Duke Endowment and a core group of dedicated UNC clinical staff. The center’s mission: to provide cutting-edge care to children with congenital or acquired airway disorders and foster collaboration with hospital and home caregivers through family-centered care.

N.C. Children’s Airway Center is one of only a handful across the country providing multidisciplinary evaluation and treatment for children with complex airway and breathing disorders. Children enrolled in the center may have conditions requiring tracheostomy, home mechanical ventilation or multiple complex airway surgeries.

One of the features that distinguish this multidisciplinary group as a "center" is the weekly meeting held by the team. On Tuesday mornings, members of the center develop comprehensive care plans for enrolled children currently admitted in the hospital and recently seen in the outpatient specialty clinics. For example, the team may present and discuss the case of a child admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) recovering from complex airway surgery. They discuss pain management, feeding and nutrition, plans for future surgeries and family coping. To complete the circle of communication, the team asks for input from the PICU providers. Other weekly highlights from the meetings include photos and video clips of recent surgical procedures with comprehensive explanations of anatomic findings, diagnoses and specialized care requirements.

In an effort to maintain an atmosphere of family-centered care, the Airway Center offers support to families through the duration of their hospital stay and even after discharge. The center develops teaching plans for families, addresses home nursing needs and coordinates follow-up clinic appointments.

The Airway Center’s approach has numerous benefits, most notably, decreased length of hospital days and fewer days traveling to outpatient clinics. For more information, visit the N.C. Children’s Airway Center online.

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