Medical teams provide priceless gift

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Carlos Diaz
  • U.S. Central Command Air Forces Public Affairs
Most people get cards, chocolate and flowers from someone special on Valentine's Day. On this particular day, the treatment, care and attention patients in a C-17 Globemaster III received from a combined aerial medic team far surpassed any typical Feb. 14 gift. 

The critical care air transport and aeromedical evacuation teams are a group of highly specialized nurses, physicians, medical technicians and respiratory therapists charged with the responsibility of patient care during medical flying missions. 

The CCAT and AE teams are assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron from Balad AB. 

"Depending on the patient load, there can be anywhere between three to five members on a team," said Capt. Mike Kersten, the officer-in-charge of mission support. "On this particular mission, both teams were on duty because some of the patients needed to be quickly transported." 

The patients were being medically evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Landstuhl, Germany. 

Captain Kersten, who's deployed from the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Kadena AB, Japan, highlighted some of the most common patient types for which they provide care and transportation. 

"We (medically evacuate) patients with battle injuries such as severe trauma, burns and amputations," he said. "We also transport asthma, heart attack and cardiac arrest patients." 

On this Valentine's Day morning, the AE team strapped their gear onto separate green litters and quickly drove off in a large, pristine white truck. After a quick intelligence briefing, they headed toward the flightline and waited for their aircraft to arrive. 

Once inside, Capt. Rebecca Shabel, Master Sgt. Bill Anderson and Staff Sgt. Kristen Lewis began the laborious, fast-moving process of reconfiguring the aircraft. The team began to set up the litter stanchions, connect tubes, cables and wires to the proper medical equipment and follow checklist procedures. 

As a medical crew director, Captain Shabel is responsible for directing the mission.
"Patient care is an overall team effort," the flight nurse said. "The nature of the mission can rapidly change. You have to be able to adapt at a moment's notice. That's why flexibility is important during any change in the mission."
Meanwhile, the CCAT team, deployed from the 99th Medical Group at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., preps and secures patients at the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility. 
"Even though these missions are intense, success is prepared for on the ground," said Capt. Jacqueline Cole, a five-year CCAT veteran and nurse. "Your flight can go smoothly when you prepare and package your patients properly." 

With the help of the CASF staff, the CCAT team loaded their well-packaged patients onto the secure litter stations. Patient care immediately becomes a continual process. Both CCAT and AE teams begin to check patient status, medications, vital signs, fluids, stability levels and degree of comfort. 

Comfort becomes an all-around effort when Master Sgt. Larry Cantrell, a C-17 loadmaster, passes hot cups of coffee to the medical crew members. 

"Doing these missions just tugs at the heartstrings," said Sergeant Cantrell, who is a father of three. "I see these young folks going down range and making great sacrifices to keep us safe. Many of them are young enough to be your own kids."  

Sergeant Cantrell is no stranger to these types of missions. The 22-year Air Force veteran was a medical evacuation specialist before becoming a loadmaster. 

During the flight, loadmasters assist the medical teams with their particular needs and work closely with the medical crew director. 

"Teamwork and fluidity are key when it comes to the movement of this mission," Sergeant Cantrell said. 

Moving and configuring the patients is one of Sergeant Anderson's responsibilities as the medical technician in charge. Each litter can hold up to 250 pounds, the 18-year Air Force member said. 

"Some patient loads can be as many as 40 to 60 when flying to the (continental United States)," he said, adding it's part of his job to make sure the patients get home in the best condition possible.

"These are young kids, and they deserve the best because they gave it their all," said Sergeant Anderson, a nine-year AE team member from the 934th AES with the Minnesota Air Reserve. "Seeing them when they see their families for the first time is a great feeling." 

"This is an awesome job. I can't complain at all," Sergeant Lewis said. 

As the second medical technician, she's responsible for documenting all patient care provided, flight nurse assistance and sharing the meal and baggage duties with the lead med tech. 

During the second hour of flight, Captain Cole comforted her patient by readjusting the headrest and placing a palm-sized plush toy tiger near the pillow. 

"We take a lot of pride in what we do," she said. "Taking care of the Soldiers is both a personally and professionally rewarding experience." 

As the youngest CCAT team member, Senior Airman Casey Castleberry said she loves to fly and care for critically ill patients. 

"The positive changes the patients go through is very rewarding to me," she said. She credits the intense two-week sustainment course at the University of Cincinnati Trauma Hospital for preparing her to do the job. 

"As a respiratory therapist, I review their airway pressure, ensure the ventilator functions and make sure there's always an eye on the patient," she said.
CCAT physician Maj. Brandon Snook monitors the patients during flight.
"It's very important to keep them stabilized," the general surgery physician said. "Being able to help them get the care they need is the main priority." 

That patient care continues as the aircraft lands at Ramstein AB, Germany. 

Waiting for them are members of the 435th CASF. The patients are expeditiously removed from the aircraft and carefully placed into a blue medical bus. The CCAT team rides with them to Landstuhl, the largest military hospital outside of the continental United States. The AE team stayed behind and began to put their equipment away. 

On this particular Valentine's Day, the CCAT and AE teams definitely provided the priceless gift of heartwarming care.

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