The Michigan Daily - Friday, November 15, 2002 - 10A
When time counts
7 a.m. The first shift of the day starts, as four crew members arrive and two
others finally go home. The first duty of the day is to check all the
equipment on the helicopters and jet to make sure it is in working order.
a.M. The University Hospital's Survival Flight crew has already taken two
trips, both to Marquette. The first trip had been pre-arranged - a
prenatal baby staying at the hospital finally returned home. The second trip, a gunshot
victim who could no longer be cared for at a local hospital - was more serious.
T HE CREW OF NURSES, DOCTORS AND PILOTS HEADING SURVIVAL FLIGHT,
MICHIGAN'S OLDEST EMERGENCY AIR TRANSPORTATION PROGRAM, FACE
CRITICAL SITUATIONS EVERYDAY, AND AT 1,000 FEET IN THE AIR, THEIR
JOB IS LIKE NO OTHER IN THE MEDICAL PROFESSION. MICHIGAN DAILY STAFF
REPORTER MARIA SPROW AND PHOTOGRAPHER DANNY MOLOSHOK SPENT A
DAY WITH THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE SURVIVAL FLIGHT ONE OF THE MOST REP-
UTABLE TRANSPORT SYSTEMS IN THE COUNTRY.
Members of the crew
.I 4. who aren't in flight get
together for their daily briefing,
where they discuss everything from
the condition of the equipment and
the weather forecast to the past
week's flights and patients and
upcoming trips. The briefings are
important because they keep all
flight nurses up to speed.
12: Op.m.Lunch, if and when they are lucky. The crew makes sure all
their food is in to-go trays, just in case. Since they spend so
much time together, the conversation flows quickly, and talk ranges from the
occasional wise crack to hunting and children.
. Gp.m. A call from a
1. 1~ nearby
hospital comes in to the
dispatch center. The patient is
an infant in respiratory distress,w
and the decision to go is made
within 10 minutes. At
approximately 1:50, the flight
crew lands at the hospital
grounds, where they work to
stabilize the patient before
taking off again. The final-
destination is the landing pad at
C.S. Mott Children's hospital.'
4i. pO mBack at Dispatch. Two crew members, having just returned
C.2mfrom a flight, are filing reports. Another call comes in, from
Cadillac, involving an ederly patient. Because there are no open beds in the
University's adult ICU and because it's not an emergency, the decision is made
to hold off for awhile, but the patient is picked up later in the evening.
M emphis residents Tracy and
Matt Hooten will never forget
the day five months ago when
their newborn daughter, Rachel, was
flown to the Intensive Care Unit at C.S.
Mott Children's Hospital.
It was June 10, and Rachel was just five
days old. Three days earlier, she had been
diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syn-
drome. The left side of her heart was
underdeveloped, keeping it from pumping
blood into the rest of her body.
According to the University Congeni-
tal Heart Center, if left untreated, HLHS
kills 95 percent of its victims within one
month. It's responsible for 25 percent of
cardiac-related deaths occurring in the
first week of life, though it only affects
about one in 5,000 newborns.
The local Memphis hospital was
unable to care for her and her life was on
the line when the University Hospital's
Survival Flight crew arrived in Memphis
to transport her to Ann Arbor.
"She pretty much slept the whole way,"
says Tracy Hooten, recalling the family's
first flight and the work of the nurses and
doctors who cared for Rachel during the
trip. "They were watching her oxygen
levels because her oxygen levels
dropped.... They saved her life."
Nearly five months and two heart
surgeries later, Rachel took another
ride on Survival Flight, the University's
equivalent to an airborne ambulance
that travels across the United States
and Canada to transport trauma and
medical patients needing the expertise
available at the University's health sys-
tem and medical centers.
"It's been a roller coaster since we've
been here. At one point, we weren't
sure if she was ever going to go home,"
Matt Hooten said. "It seems like every
time she was getting better, something
would happen that we'd take a few
steps back." But Rachel finally went
home Nov. 8, and the family is again
thanking Survival Flight.
"She's not real stable, even with her
trike," Tracy Hooten said, adding Rachel's
unstable condition made transportation
back to Memphis by car impossible. "It
was a big relief to find out that they were
willing to fly us home, because up until
that point, we were unsure how we were
going to get her there."
All in a dafiwork
S urvival Flight - which started in
1983 with one helicopter and half
a dozen flight nurses - now con-
sists of three Bell 430 helicopters, one
medically configured fixed wing Cess-
na Citation jet, 19 flight nurses, nine
pilots, seven communications special-
ists and four mechanics.
For the specially trained flight nurs-
es and medical doctors on the crew,
there is no average day, only good
days and bad days, some when the
calls never stop and others when the
calls never come.
Ct4:1 b,- i -.x i 1m a n) to 1 Ann
Medical Resident Michael Overbeck aids a patient's breathing as Flight Nurse Specialist
Kris Nelson sorts through medical charts in the helicopter's cabin enroute to Ann Arbor,
Days with flights like Rachel's - when
patients are finally healthy enough to
return home - make the job especially
rewarding. But not all flights are as smooth
or as successful.
"You have days when things don't go
the way you want, and a patient's life is
hanging in the wings. Sometimes, your
best intentions don't always work out,"
Flight Nurse Specialist Wilson Bowers
said. "There's an emotional component
involved in some of the flights we do.
No matter how tough you are and how
seasoned you are, occasionally you are
going to get a patient that you can't put
out of your mind."
The nurses rotate working in pairs dur-
ing four 12-hour shifts - 12 p.m. to 12
a.m., 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and two pairs that
work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. - that keep
the service going 24 hours a day, 365 days
a year. Whatever their schedule, any
thoughts of home and rest are saved for
later if an emergency comes up.
Long hours are nothing new for the Sur-
vival Flight nurses, who came either
because they were looking for something
different or because they wanted to expand
their medical knowledge and have a
greater impact on patient care.
"This is a great place to work because of
the ways nurses are treated. You have more
of a role in Survival Flight," Bowers said.
"You have the ability to advance your prac-
tice to the next level."
Working in the air can be stressful -
the space inside the helicopters is tight and,
unlike in the Emergency Room, every
patient picked up by Survival Flight is in
critical condition. More often than not, the
nurses are operating with very little knowl-
edge of the patient and decisions must be
"It's like apples and oranges," said Flight
Nurse Specialist Paul Hyssong. "You are
still doing patient care, but it's a whole dif-
ferent environment. Here, it's one patient at
a time. In the emergency room, it's many.
Some are sick, some aren't so sick. Here,
it's generally more critical, where time
makes a difference."
When in the air, the pilot is in charge but
the patient is first priority. Just like an
ambulance, Survival Flight gets the right-
of-way to other traffic in the air.
"Ut rh+e *il a veo w anP Tf h P nrwea
Sin the wings
an afternoon call comes in,
nobody is sure what to expect.
The patient is an infant staying
at an area hospital suffering from respirato-
ry distress, and the decision to go comes
easily. It's a 15-minute flight, tops, and the
suburbs quickly fall behind as the helicop-
ter makes its way.
"We ran out here with only a name and
an age," Nelson says. "We didn't have a
weight, which is important when adminis-
tering medicine, and we didn't know if the
kid was going to be incubated or if we
would have to do that."
Because of the infant's condition, the
baby's flight proves to be more stressful
than most for the nurses.
As the baby's right arm reaches out of its
hospital blanket, Nelson injects medication
into its tiny body. The flight's doctor,
Michael Overbeck, a medical resident who
works in the emergency room, spends the
duration of the flight making sure that the
baby is breathing. They are 1,000 feet in
the air and traveling at 160 miles an hour.
A heart monitor hangs from the heli-
copter's wall. Wires attached to machines
connect to its chest. Nelson's general
hypothesis is that the baby is either suffer-
ing from a severe heart defect or a critical
Either way, the baby's condition, though
better by the end of the flight, isn't good.
"This is a sick kid," Overbeck says
after the flight. "This is not something
Roughly 10 percent of calls are to trau-
ma scenes , which can be dangerous.
Flight nurses undergo special emergency
training sessions each year, as well as rou-
tine practice drills. They wear flame retar-
dant jumpsuits, boots and gloves, just in
case they are ever caught in a flashfire.
Before accepting a flight, different ques-
tions must be weighed - weather condi-
tions, distance, amount of available
personnel, number of open beds, patient
status and weight. "Can we do it and do we
want to do it? There are a lot of factors that
go into play," Nelson said.
But an emergency is an emergency, and
the crew is trained to be in the air within
five minutes if necessary.
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