Taking care of patients in air
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Tech. Sgt. Gabrial Aguilar tests an IV pump before inventorying it for a flight. The pump is used to run intravenous fluids to a patient while in flight. Sergeant Aguilar is assigned to the 376th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron here. He is deployed from the 349th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andrew Gates)
by Master Sgt. Andrew Gates
455th Expeditionary Operations Group Public Affairs
7/6/2004 - BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- Most military aircraft are not well known for passenger comfort.
But when passengers are seriously ill or injured, a team of medical experts is always on hand to ensure as comfortable a ride as possible.
“We are responsible for moving casualties in-theater as well as between theaters,” said Capt. Karl Schaab of the 376th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. “We move people from the collection point (here) to Ramstein or Rhein-Main (air bases) in Germany, taking patients to the Army regional hospital at Landstuhl.”
The process starts when a U.S. servicemember in-country has a condition which requires hospitalization.
Some flights are because of ordinary medical conditions.
“Last week, we had a 21-year-old Soldier who went into diabetic shock,” said Staff Sgt. Virgilio Comia, an aeromedical flight technician from the 349th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. “We had to fly her to Landstuhl for medical treatment. She’s doing fine now.”
Other flights are carrying seriously injured patients. The team recently had to evacuate a patient who lost part of an arm from a landmine explosion, Captain Schaab said.
“When someone in this area needs medical evacuation, we get notified through the aeromedical evacuation control team,” said Captain Schaab, who is deployed from the 445th AES at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. “They tell us when and where to move a patient.”
Once the team has been told to move a patient, they schedule airlift on the next available cargo aircraft, Captain Schaab said.
Shortly before the patients are loaded on the plane, an aeromedical-evacuation crew prepares the aircraft by setting up litters or other equipment to ensure a safe journey for the patients. It takes the team just under an hour to set up an aircraft to carry patients.
“We have to move quickly to ensure the aircraft is ready when the patients arrive,” Captain Schaab said.
The team usually makes two flights each week to Germany. On each flight, they normally accompany one or two litters and five to six mobile patients, said Maj. Janie Johnson, aeromedical evacuation flight liaison. She is deployed from the 622nd AES at MacDill AFB, Fla.
Getting a plane, and then getting that plane ready for patients, takes a lot of work.
“We get a lot of cooperation from everyone -- the aerial port, aircrew and loadmaster,” Captain Schaab said. “Everyone pitches in.”
Sometimes, one of the patients is in critical condition and in serious jeopardy of losing life or limb. That is when another team of medics assists the patients, said Senior Airman Frank Dumbauska, who is deployed from Lackland AFB, Texas. Airman Dumbauska is a member of the critical care air transport team.
“If there is a critical patient who needs to be airlifted, we take care of the patient with assistance from the aeromedical-evacuation crew,” he said. “A critical patient is one who won’t survive long if (he or she stays) downrange -- someone we need to get to a hospital quickly.”
The CCATT normally consists of a technician, a nurse and an emergency room doctor or pulmonary specialist.
Critical patients are moved once they are stabilized enough to move, said Capt. Terry Bates, a nurse on the CCATT who is deployed from Andrews AFB, Md.
“If someone has a life-threatening emergency, we need to get them to a hospital as quickly as possible, so we want to make sure they can be transported safely,” Captain Bates said.
They prepare each patient according to his or her risk. This could mean everything from putting breathing tubes into a patient who they believe might have respiratory problems to procedures relieving internal bleeding.
“If we think there may be a problem while we are (flying), we try to be proactive and prepare the patient appropriately before we ever take off,” Captain Bates said.
Since the CCATT is not an aircrew, they need an aeromedical-evacuation crew traveling with them.
“The aeromedical-evacuation crew sets up the aircraft and gets everything ready for us when we arrive with the patient,” Captain Bates said. “They also help out with our patient if they have time -- or if they don’t have any patients on the flight.”
The squadron here has three aeromedical-evacuation crews -- all of which are in the Reserve, Major Johnson said. It also has one critical-care team.
“If we send out our CCATT, though, we bring in an augmenting crew from another unit -- that way we always have someone here for the warfighters,” Major Johnson said.
Although Army medical-evacuation units are responsible for bringing injured warfighters from forward-deployed locations to the casualty collection point here, the Airmen here are getting into some of the evacuation action.
“We’ve been embedding our aeromedical-evacuation crews on Army (helicopters) going downrange and bringing injured people,” Captain Schaab said. “This is providing additional capability and is a great help for the Army.”
No matter the challenges, the Airmen said the job keeps them motivated.
“I love what I am doing,” Sergeant Comia said. “I enjoy helping injured people out and getting them where they need to go.”