WHEN SECONDS COUNT

February 1, 2011 | By More

She was only five years old, still small enough to be strapped into a child safety seat when an auto accident caused her car seat harness to malfunction. The Booneville girl was tossed out, her skull fractured and pressing on her brain — a life threatening emergency where every second counts.

Fortunately, the AirEvac Lifeteam helicopter was only minutes away, and airlifted the injured child to St. Edward’s Hospital in Ft. Smith in record time. Once stabilized, the helicopter flew her to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock where she recovered.

Months later, the helicopter’s Registered Nurse/EMT, Chris White, was shopping when the mother of the injured child recognized the Air Evac employee and walked over to the man with her now-healthy daughter in tow. The mother explained to her daughter that this was one of the men who saved her after the accident.

“The little girl came up and grabbed my leg and hugged me. It was great to see the after-effect of what we do,” said White, who is the father of four children.

Air Evac Registered Nurse Lyndle Thacker, described the rescue of a 14-year- old boy who flipped a four-wheeler over on himself and suffered internal injuries which left him without a pulse. “We knew he was bad. The boy had no lung functions since his lungs had collapsed,” he said.

An ambulance arrived a few minutes before the Air Evac team and had already started working on the boy. “We immediately placed a needle in his chest to decompress his lungs. The first needle didn’t produce a pulse, so we stuck him again and this time the boy’s heart started beating.

One month later the boy was back at school and suffered no lasting “deficits” from his ordeal, said Thacker, who credited the ground paramedics for their outstanding work to help save the boy’s life. “We didn’t need to say a word. We are like tools in a tool belt. We function as a team,” he said.

Unfortunately, not every response ends in a life saving event, but Air Evac employees always try to focus on good outcomes and keep a smile of our faces, said Thacker, who previously worked for 10 years as an Emergency Room nurse at St. Edward’s Hospital in Fort Smith.

The company motto, “When Seconds Count” means exactly what it implies, said RN/EMT-P Rick Rauser,Program Director of the Air Evac Lifeteam 22 stationed in Paris, AR. “Helicopters are all about response time and tertiary or advanced medical care,” he said.

Rauser said the Air Evac’s medical helicopter is also stocked with more advanced equipment and medicines than emergency ground personnel are allowed by state requirements to carry.

In one instance, a vehicle roll over resulted in a 17 year old male being thrown from the vehicle. He was in critical condition and unresponsive, said Rauser. We had to administer “rapid sequence intubation” medicine, which temporarily put him to sleep and paralyzed his muscles so we could insert a tube in his lungs to breathe for him while he was being transported to Springdale. This medicine is not allowed to be carried on ground ambulances, he added. The young man survived and one month later he and his mother showed up at the base to thank us for saving his life, he said.

Rauser stressed the importance of the lifesaving teamwork between 911 dispatch and area ground personnel. “We are not any better than the EMS personnel, fire department and 1st responders. Without them we could not do our job effectively,” emphasized Johnson, who previously worked for five years with Franklin County as a ground medic. “When I worked on the ground, hearing the sound of a chopper approach was music to our ears,” he said. “A base is only as good as the people we work with, on the ground or in the air.”

Although a helicopter crash in June took the life of three Air Evac employees, remains up-beat. Air Evac Pilot, Larry Stephens, said although flying has some inherent risks, Air Evac is very safety oriented. The Paris base has also received several safety and service awards including a Safety Award for Base of the Year, the 2010 “Good Samaritan Award “ by the Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Association, and the National Community Service Base of the Year.

Stephens and other Air Evac Pilots spend a lot of their time keeping tabs on weather reports from several different computer sites.

“Our goal is to complete our mission. If severe weather conditions are indicated, as much as we want to help, we do not fly,” said Stephens.

The crew is reminded to stay calm and mentally prepare for each rescue operation. A simple phrase is painted on the flight line each crew crosses before manning the helicopter. Written in bold letters across the tarmac is “Are You Ready?”

Yes, they are ready. Are you? For more information on joining Air Evac, contact Rauser at (479) 963-6018.

Rural Trauma victims Twice as Likely to Die within One Hour

Rural trauma victims are twice as likely to die from an accident or medical condition versus an urban victim due to failure to arrive at a hospital within the “Golden Hour”, or one hour after the trauma occurs.

The Air Evac Lifeteam was formed in West Plains, Mo., in 1985 and since has grown into the largest privately owned air medical service in the US, with 96 helicopter bases in 14 states across the central US and over 600,000 members,

said Beverly Bauer, Membership Coordinator for Air Evac Lifeteam. These bases cover rural areas where advanced medical care (a category 1 or 2 trauma center) is not available close by, she said.

The Paris base, which services a 70 mile, 12countyoverlappingradiusaroundthe base, including Pope, Yell and Johnson County, is staffed 24/7 by highly trained and experienced personnel, including Pilots, Registered Nurses, Paramedics, a Base Manager and base Mechanic. Each emergency flight is manned by a pilot, an RN and a paramedic. When an emergency call comes in from the 911 call center with a life threatening situation, the helicopter service is activated, whether or not a person has a membership in Air Evac, said Rauser. About 7% of the people we transport are members, he added.

The 911 call center follows an EMS (Emergency Medical Service) dispatch protocol based on medical criteria to dictate if Air Evac is activated. “We never respond without local EMS responding. We all work together as a team to provide the best care possible,” said Rauser. If the ground EMS unit at the scene determines the patient does not require immediate air transport, Air Evac will return to its base and the ground EMS unit will transport the patient. About 1⁄2 our call outs are cancelled, he added. Cancelled flights, or “empty flights” as Air Evac calls them, are never charged for and the company absorbs these costs as a public service.

While chest pains and strokes are the most common medical reasons for Air Evac to be called, life threatening criteria also includes roll over accidents, shootings, falls from great heights, near drowning, head or spinal injuries, major burns and other potentially debilitating and life threatening conditions. Victims are airlifted to the “closest, appropriate facility”, usually to Ft. Smith or Little Rock, said Rauser. However, some patients have been flown to hospitals as far away as Dallas, Tulsa or Memphis, he added.

Crew members keep in contact with family members on the ground to let them know how the patient is doing. “Nothing is as scary as the unknown. We don’t make light of the situation, but we try to calm the family and joke with them a little as laughter really is the best medicine,” explained Air Evac Paramedic, Malvern Gann, who has worked with Air Evac since 2001.

Once onboard, the patient is constantly monitored by the medical personnel on board, who sit directly behind the patient’s head to enable them to utilize the advanced tertiary medical equipment onboard and administer life saving drugs ground ambulances are not allowed to carry.

Victims without a membership in Air Evac can pay from $6,000 to $12,000 for one emergency helicopter transport. However, there is no charge to members for each emergency airlift besides the yearly fee. A single membership is $50 per year with $5 for one additional family member or $60 yearly for a family of three or more Members who travel in states covered by Air Evac are covered while traveling in that state, said Bauer.

Although air lifted patients with medical insurance coverage may have part of their transport cost covered, many insurance companies pay out the same rate for emergency ground transportation, several hundred dollars, as for an emergency air transport, several thousand dollars. This often leaves the patient, or the patient’s family, with a huge balance due.

“All it takes is one incident to realize the cost savings of the yearly membership,” emphasized Bauer.

Local membership support is a vital, said Bauer. Without it, Air Evac Lifeteam could not place and maintain its aircraft, pilots and medical crews in rural American communities. Since up to half of all local 911 Air Evac call outs are later cancelledatnochargetothepatient,the membership dues help cover the cost of empty flights, said Bauer.

The Air Evac team is involved in many charitable activities, both locally and nationwide. After Hurricane Katrina, Air Evac was the largest civilian rotor-wing responder and within five days transported more than 100 patients. A similar effort was mounted for Hurricane Rita.

Anyone interested membership or curious about the service is urged to contact Bauer at (800) 247-3822.

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