Critical care transport team continues to save lives

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Heather Skinkle
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Since mid-January, the newly formed all-Air Force Critical Care Air Transport Team with the 651st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron or EAES at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan has been saving lives, whether they're U.S. troops, local nationals, or coalition partners.

"A life is a life," said Maj. Nikki Conlin, anesthesiologist and 651st EAES CCATT physician. "We don't see race or nationality, just a patient who needs help."

Help is a broad, understated term for life-saving on a regular basis. On Jan. 28, an unnamed Italian paratrooper needed their expert help. He sustained multiple life-threatening injuries when his mine resistant ambush protected vehicle rolled over in western Afghanistan.

From there a Fever crew brought the paratrooper into Camp Bastion, said Conlin.

A Fever mission, where trained medics also operate as aircrew, evacuates wounded from a forward operating location.

At Bastion, a special lung team from Germany was brought in to treat the Italian's injuries. He remained there until he was deemed stable enough for transport, said Conlin.

That is where the CCATT comes in. When a patient is considered stable enough the CCATT preps them for transport.

"Doctor Conlin and I established a game plan for his care prior to the flight," said Capt. Shane Runyon, 651st EAES CCATT nurse. "His heart had stopped prior to his arrival; he had chest tubes, multiple fractures, and a spinal injury that were factors to consider prior to his transport."

The CCATT, comprised of a physician, nurse, and respiratory therapist monitors critically injured patients, like the Italian paratrooper, and keeps them stable while in the aircraft.

"Thankfully, he was stable and didn't require resuscitation during flight, but he did need several units of blood products," said Conlin. "We continued to monitor his blood pressure and supported his breathing."

Even though they've only worked together a short time the CCATT quickly learned how to smoothly communicate with each other and work together.

"At first there was a lot more talking as each team member got used to working together," said Runyon.

The plane's engines would drown out noise, making vocalizing instructions and in-flight monitoring more difficult, but they soon learned to listen closely to each other.

"We know what needs to be done to help the patient," said Runyon.

The CCATT are trained professionals. Whether on their first or third CCATT deployment, they never stop learning and perfecting their methods.

"This is my third CCATT deployment, and I have a routine now," said Runyon. "On my first deployment, it took two to three times as long to prepare or package a patient as it does now."

Speediness is key. The sooner the patient gets from point A to point B, the quicker the patient receives more specialized care. After receiving treatment in the area of responsibility, transport continues until the patient reaches Germany and then home.

For the Italian paratrooper, home is Italy, where doctors say he's recovering.

"We have a skill set that our troops depend on," said Conlin. "They're out there risking their lives for us, and if they get into trouble they know that a medical evacuation team will pick them up."

For most CCATT members the story ends there, with their segment of the patient's journey, but Runyon is able to gain a total view of care. In the U.S. he's a nurse with the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

"I've been able to see patients go from being a CCATT patient, at the worst of their injuries, to walking again and progressing towards a normal lifestyle."