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Teams from UF Health and Sacred Heart combine in lifesaving procedure

Thanks to extraordinary support from the teams at University of Florida Health, physicians and staff at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart were able to perform a lifesaving procedure to treat 2-year-old Garon Flanagan, who was battling a severe asthma attack.

The high-risk procedure, carried out jointly by physicians and staff from UF Health and Sacred Heart, marked the first time that The Studer Family Children’s Hospital has used an advanced life support technique called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO. The equipment can support the function of a child’s lungs and heart, allowing those vital organs to rest and heal. The technique is used only when all of the standard treatments have been tried without success.

“The care we have received has been excellent,” said Bud Flanagan, Garon’s father. “We cannot thank the doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists enough. It has been their mission to help our son get better.”

Garon was brought to Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast in late December with severe breathing problems and then transferred to the Children’s Hospital in Pensacola. Standard treatments, including use of a ventilator and medications that relax and open the patient’s airway, did not work. Specialists in Sacred Heart’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit feared he would not survive and decided to consult with physicians at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville.

“They are our referral center,” said Bryan Weidner, M.D., a pediatric surgeon at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital. “There are few treatments we can’t provide here in Pensacola, but in the case of this child, we were running out of options with a child’s life in danger. We examined all the options and decided he needed a highly specialized treatment we don’t provide.”

The teams at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital and the UF Health ShandsCair transport service agreed to throw their full support into the effort. They assembled teams to transport the ECMO equipment, intensive care physicians and technicians to Pensacola.

“Very few pediatric centers in the country are able to do this — bring a transport team, equipment and ECMO specialists to another city to save a child,” Weidner said.

Weidner performed the operation to insert a plastic tube called a cannula into a large blood vessel in Garon’s neck. Once the procedure was completed and the oxygenator was operating, the transport team from ShandsCair flew him to UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital as the specialized ECMO team continued to manage the heart-lung bypass machine.

“Bringing this patient to UF Health was an amazing mobilization of resources. I was fortunate enough to lead a highly capable crew from ShandsCair along with our ECMO specialist, who together, gave this child an opportunity to survive,” said UF Health pediatric critical care physician Jennifer Munoz-Pareja, M.D. “I am grateful for the support we had from Sacred Heart because we truly worked together as a team.”

Today, Garon is no longer on ECMO, is breathing on his own and is being rehabilitated to go back home.

“Garon is getting stronger every day,” said Bud.

The ECMO procedure involves channeling the patient’s blood out of the heart and into the machine. It adds oxygen to the blood and removes carbon dioxide before the blood is pumped back into the body.

“With the expansion of the UF Health ShandsCair team, we are now able to bring speed, strength and specialized care to patients in the Panhandle. In this situation, our flight team swiftly transferred a critical patient from hospital-to-hospital safely with the use of ECMO and with the collaboration of the Sacred Heart team. Our crews are determined to continue educating ourselves on the latest medical technologies to facilitate lifesaving care when minutes matter,” said ShandsCair Program Director Ed Crews, R.N., CCRN, R.R.T., EMT-P, UF-CC.

In 2017, Sacred Heart formed an affiliation with UF Health to provide an expanded range of specialized pediatric care. During the past year, 20 physician specialists have been hired — 15 by the University of Florida College of Medicine and five by Sacred Heart Medical Group — providing care in pediatric cardiology, pediatric endocrinology, pediatric gastroenterology, pediatric hematology/oncology, pediatric infectious diseases, pediatric nephrology, pediatric orthopedic surgery, pediatric pulmonology, pediatric surgery and pediatric urology.

UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital is recognized among the nation’s best hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in six pediatric medical specialties. In addition to pediatric specialty care, Sacred Heart and UF Health have collaborated to launch a new kidney transplant program to benefit the thousands of individuals across the Southeast awaiting a lifesaving transplant. Sacred Heart’s pediatric and OB/GYN physician residency programs are also affiliated with the UF College of Medicine.

The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart is a 117-bed facility that serves as the only children’s hospital in Northwest Florida. The Children’s Hospital offers a wide range of services to meet all of a child’s medical needs, from a pediatric emergency room and neonatal intensive care unit to a medical staff of more than 120 board-certified physicians across 30 pediatric specialties. The Children’s Hospital provides quality, compassionate care to children, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay. Sacred Heart Health System is a member of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system. For more information about the services available at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart, visit

About Sacred Heart Health System

On the Gulf Coast, Ascension operates Sacred Heart Health System based in Pensacola and Providence Hospital and Providence Medical Group based in Mobile, Alabama. Together, these Ascension healthcare facilities have served Gulf Coast communities for more than 160 years and they employ more than 6,600 associates. Across the region, Ascension provided more than $113 million in community benefit and care of persons living in poverty in fiscal year 2016. Ascension is a faith-based healthcare organization committed to delivering compassionate, personalized care to all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable. Ascension operates 2,500 sites of care — including 141 hospitals and more than 30 senior living facilities — in 22 states and the District of Columbia. For more on Sacred Heart Health System, visit

About University of Florida Health

UF Health is the Southeast’s most comprehensive academic health center. With main campuses in Gainesville and Jacksonville, UF Health includes six health colleges, nine research institutes and centers, two teaching hospitals, six specialty hospitals and a host of physician medical practices and outpatient services throughout North Central and Northeast Florida. Its mission is to promote health through outstanding and high-quality patient care, innovative and rigorous education in the health professions and biomedical sciences, and high-impact research across the spectrum of basic, translational and clinical investigation.

UF Health includes the UF colleges of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health and Health Professions, and Veterinary Medicine, which has both a large animal hospital and a small animal hospital. The system also encompasses several UF research institutes and centers. The full spectrum of patient-care services are provided through UF Health Shands Hospital and UF Health Jacksonville, UF’s private, not-for-profit affiliates. UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville includes UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital, the UF Health Heart & Vascular Hospital and the UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital. Two additional specialty hospitals, UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital and UF Health Shands Psychiatric Hospital, are also in Gainesville. UF Health Jacksonville and UF Health North Hospital are the system’s Northeast Florida hospitals. UF Health offers a network of outpatient rehabilitation centers, two home health agencies in Gainesville and Jacksonville, and more than 100 UF physician outpatient practices throughout North Central and Northeast Florida.

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