The Coast News Group
Caleb Peltier
Caleb Peltier, 10, of Vista was saved as a three-day-old infant by Tri-City Medical Center emergency and NICU staff. Courtesy photo

‘Code Caleb’ child saved in ER celebrates 10th birthday

OCEANSIDE — 10 years ago, Tri-City Medical Center’s emergency department and its newborn intensive care unit (NICU) came together to save a three-day-old infant named Caleb Peltier.

From that case, Code Caleb was created and has since saved numerous infants younger than 60 days who arrive at the hospital in distress.

On Sept. 21, 2010, unresponsive three-day-old Caleb Peltier arrived by ambulance at Tri-City’s emergency room.  Thankfully, the ER team and its head, Dr. Gene Ma, resuscitated Caleb and kept him alive- but the infant’s issue had yet to be diagnosed.

A nurse working the case ran into Dr. Hamid Movahhedian, a neonatologist and a pediatric cardiologist, in the hallway. She asked the doctor to take a look at Caleb and see if he could determine what was wrong.

According to Movahhedian, it wasn’t usual protocol at the time for the ER to call the NICU for cases.

Tri-City and most other hospitals have an emergency code called Code Pink, meant for children under 14 years old who are brought into the emergency room with life-threatening conditions. The code helps staff to prepare to better treat children.

When Caleb was brought into the hospital, it became clear that Code Pink wasn’t an adequate code for a three-day-old infant in distress.

Caleb Peltier
Caleb Peltier, 10, celebrates his birthday alongside his family during a Zoom call with Tri-City Medical Center staff on Sept. 21. Caleb was saved as an infant by Tri-City emergency and NICU staff and was the catalyst for Code Caleb, a hospital emergency code for infants 60 days or younger in significant distress. Courtesy photo

Thus, Code Caleb was created to allow emergency and NICU departments to work together in cases such as Caleb’s. The code is a formal process in the hospital that infants 60 days or younger in significant distress receive immediate, specialized care.

“When they call Code Caleb, we are the team,” Movahhedian said.

Movahhedian was able to quickly diagnose Caleb with congenital heart disease and get him the proper treatment. Because of the coordination between the ER and the NICU, Caleb lived to celebrate his 10th birthday.

In the United States, approximately one out of every 120 babies is born with congenital heart disease. Each year, an estimated 30 babies die in California from undiagnosed congenital heart disease.

Tri-City staff held Caleb a birthday celebration via Zoom on the 10th anniversary of him arriving at the hospital.

“Caleb wouldn’t be here today with(out) Dr. Movahhedian and his level of care and expertise,” Ma said during the Zoom call.

Today, Caleb is a happy, 10-year-old boy who lives with his family in Vista and loves Legos and the Marvel Universe; Wolverine is his favorite superhero.

The first “Code Caleb” call was announced over the hospital’s intercom system as part of a mock scenario on April 5, 2012, just over a year after Caleb was saved. The Peltier family of Vista watched the scene play out.

In the first year after the code’s launch, the hospital called nine Code Calebs.

In addition to inspiring Code Caleb at Tri-City, Caleb’s story helped to create a new law that requires California hospitals to screen newborns for critical congenital heart defects before being sent home. This very screening process could have diagnosed Caleb’s illness before he was discharged from the hospital where he was born.

The Peltier family, the Tri-City emergency and NICU departments want Code Caleb to go nationwide in hospitals.

“This realization that there are NICUs across the nation, yet there are babies coming in distress and these specially trained individuals are not being notified seems unfathomable, but it’s a reality,” said Daniel Peltier, Caleb’s father. “Code Caleb is needed.”