OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
Born 1-pound, 4-ounces, Emma Waechter’s delicate frame stays warm within the confines of a neonatal intensive care unit’s isolette bed - its protective enclosure would be her world for the next four-months.
Emma, a micro-preemie, was born with a hole in her heart and underdeveloped lungs; a condition exacerbated by pulmonary hypertension, which required a specific blend of medications - a compound drug.
She would eventually take a medically-chaperoned flight with her mother, Susanne, from the University of Colorado Medical Center to Albuquerque, N.M., where her father, Lt. Col. Kristopher Waechter, was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base.
In Albuquerque, the Waechter’s search for a pharmacy capable of creating the compound drug proved elusive.
“We went to three different pharmacies in the first year and it was a very stressful thing for us because she needed this mediation to keep her pulmonary hypertension down so the rest of her body could function.” said Susanne. “I have this fragile child hooked up to oxygen; feeding tube needing 11 medications a day, needing heart surgery, and we had this medication that was really difficult to get.”
A working, compound drug was secured through a third-party pharmacy that worked within the TRICARE network; providing a reprieve from the stress.
However, the reprieve was short-lived. The pharmacy responsible for the compound drug lost their contract with TRICARE, which forced the Waechters to look beyond Albuquerque.
“We simply couldn’t get the required medical care in Albuquerque and got the Humanitarian Transfer to Offutt.” said Lt. Col. Kristopher Waechter, U.S. Strategic Command’s Inspector General’s office.
Though Humanitarian Transfers and Exceptional Family Military Program transfers share some similarities, they are not exactly the same.
“We [Offutt] are becoming a hot spot for EFMP families because our in-school services are great, our medical community is amazing and we have a multitude of support services in the area for just about any disability you can imagine,” said Caroline Olson, an EFMP-Family Support Coordinator with the Airman and Family Readiness Center.
Offutt, though smaller in size than the 11 larger metropolitan areas that garner expedited transfers, is becoming an increasingly popular option for military families.
“There are few Exceptional Family Member Program bases that support and enhance the quality of life of specials needs family members like Offutt” said Maj. Richard Smith, 55th Medical Support Squadron Pharmacy Flight commander. “We are very blessed to have virtually every medical specialty in the Omaha metro area; top notch health-care from children’s hospitals and child psychiatric care to cancer and neurology specialists. At the end of the day it is about providing trusted care for our patients.”
The reasons for requiring a Humanitarian Transfer are unique to each military family; For the Waechters, it was the ability to attain a refrigerated, custom compound drug that Emma needed morning, noon and night.
Compound drugs, though not new to Department of Defense pharmacies, are rare and often times beyond the scope of the standardized ‘formulary’ which provides medicinal continuity throughout the DoD.
“Compounds usually come into play when you have children; many drugs are made for adults. Children may not be able take the same dose so the medication is prepared in a liquid version - at a smaller dose,” said Petrina Stites, 55th MDSS clinical pharmacist.
The Waechter’s search for a pharmacy and pharmacist qualified to compound the drug needed to control Emma’s pulmonary hypertension was finally realized once they arrived at Offutt and met Petrina.
“Petrina has been really easy to work with, we’ve never had an issue; the base pharmacy adjusted her dosage which requires a change to the compound.” said Lt. Col. Waechter. “It’s been a great experience working with Petrina, she is always ready with our medication and really goes above and beyond for us.”
Due to the treatment received from a confluence of the Omaha medical community and the 55th Medical Group’s pharmacy, the Waechter family will remain at Offutt. Lt. Col. Waechter will return to the operational Air Force as a RC-135 V/W Rivet Joint navigator.
“The pharmacy wasn’t intimidated at all by our medical needs,” said Susanne. “They’ve made it so easy for us.”
Now four-years-old, Emma’s health has improved dramatically. She is no longer on oxygen and has undergone a successful heart surgery.
“We love the medical community in here,” said Susanne. “It played a large part in why we decided to stay at Offutt.”