Medics, aircrew members execute life-saving mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Lauren Main
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs
In the early hours of the morning on May 22, a group of Airmen here departed with a moment's notice for Pago Pago, American Samoa, to save the life of a critically ill child.

Medical personnel from the 13th Air Force surgeon general's office and the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Det. 1, along with a C-17 Globemaster III aircrew from the 535th Airlift Squadron, were called upon to medically evacuate the five-year-old dependent of a retired Army member.

The child, who suffers from a congenital seizure disorder, was hospitalized for more than two weeks due to his inability to breathe independently. Following a prolonged seizure, his family rushed him to Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Center in Pago Pago, where doctors attempted to intubate him. During the effort to insert a breathing tube, the child vomited and inhaled the matter into his lungs, which is also known as aspirating. While doctors at the medical center were able to medicate and treat him for his seizures, he was now entirely reliant on a ventilator to breathe.

LBJ Medical Center officials recommended the patient be moved to the nearest military medical facility with the resources to treat him. With his condition listed as critical and the transport urgent, the hospital called upon the 535th AS and a team of medical professionals from the 13th AF and 18th AES.

"I received the call Friday night about 8 p.m. to fly to American Samoa and medically evacuate the patient to Tripler (Army Medical Center, Hawaii)," said Maj. Aaron Fields, a critical care air transportation doctor with the 13th AF surgeon general's office. "I initially felt the child was too sick to move, but the transport was critical."

Less than 36 hours after the initial phone call from LBJ Medical Center, a C-17 touched down in American Samoa and made preparations to transfer the child to Hawaii.

"Once we had the child (and guardian) in the back of the plane, we took off in less than 45 minutes," said 1st Lt. Audrey McCabe, a C-17 pilot with the 535th AS. "(The crew) all took turns going down to check on him. We were all a little worried, but the flight docs were on top of it and kept updating us on his status."

Upon the child's arrival to Hickam Field here, an ambulance transported him and his legal guardian to Tripler, where he continues to receive treatment.

"They will gradually wean him off the ventilator and give him trial periods each day until he is able to breathe on his own," Major Fields said. "His condition is still critical, but listed as stable and improving."

According to Major Fields, the family members of the child said they were grateful for everything the Air Force has done to ensure the health and wellness of their son.