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May 19, 1993 - Image 12

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 1993-05-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

12-The Michigan Daily Summer WeeksI-Wednesday, May 19,1993
Helicopter rescue
team celebrates
10,000th mission


to improve the quality of emergecy
medical service. Months of research
rescue -helicopter transport.
gramwasdeveloped and given a three
into ahighly successful medical inno-
ThisSaturday, SurvivalFlight will
celebrateits10thyear of operation and
its 10,000th flight with a reunion of
a victim to the most appropriate treat-
ment center in the fastest amount of
important aspect of the plan.
"The real beauty of the program,"
Associate Hospital Administrator for
said, "is bringing the patients to state-
of-the-art medical technology."
The helicopters are only a small
partof the program's success. Admin-
istrators attribute the success to the
personnel that staffs the flights.
"The flight nurses offer a more
advanced level of care than the on-
scene medics," said Dr. Mark Lowell,
associate medical director of Survival
Lowell said the nurses have exten-
sive training in all phases of emer-
gency medical treatment. These skills
allow the hospital to bring the emer-
gency room to the patient.
"While the speed of care is impor-
of care is most important."
Despite the high cost of helicopter
transport, the program operates with-
out guarantee of payment.
insuranceifthe flightismedicallynec-
essary," Forster said.
He added the flights cost an aver-
ageof$2,500to$3,000perflight. With

a budget of $2 million per year, the
program manages to break even on
One mother has witnessed the ef-
fectiveness of the team.
Nancy Walton's son, Cameron,
an auto accident. In addition to a bro-
ken hip and collapsed lungs, the youth
had lacerated his liver and bruised ev-
ery internal organ.
Flight nurses responded to the call
within 11 minutesandquickly inserted
said, "Cam would've died."
Physicians who attended to him at
the hospital said the team's response
time and immediate care made all of
the difference.
In its 10 years of operation, the
team has expanded from 17 members
to 36 full-time employees. A second
helicopter was introduced in 1986, to
meet increased demand.
The program's organizers are
pleased with their success, yet they
for more area rescue missions. Cur-
made for emergency trauma rescues.
The remaining flights are made to
transport patients between hospitals.
Forster said the national average
for on-scene calls is 20 percent, but he
attributes the lower number to the fact
that there are good Emergency Medi-
cal Services programs in the state.
"We do think there is an opportu-
nity to increase this number," Forater
In an attempt to increase emer-
gency usage, Survival Flight has insti-
tuted the'Third Rider program to edu-
cate area safety and medical teams as
towhentheyshouldcallin the helicop-
'There's an impression that heli-
copters don't provide anything more
than Emergency Medical Service
(EMS),"Lowell said. "This is just not



The Survival Flight helicopter takes a spin near University Hospitals Monday.
Airborne rescuers comine

Ineveryemergency medicalsitu-
ation, the most important factor is
time. It can be the difference be-
tween life and death.
To increase the speed of emer-
gency transport, the University Hos-
pitals created the Survival Flight
program in 1983. As a result, the
field of emergency medicine has
risen to a new level.
Survival Flight applies military
hebcopter-rescueand transport tech-
niques to domestic situations. This
innovation dramatically increases a
victim's recovery chances.
Missions consist of a pilot and
twonurses. The teamhas the ability
to land in constricted spaces and
transportcritically illpatients to the
most appropriate hospital.
Trauma patients include those
with extensive bums as wellasheart
attack victims.
"We are a flying emergency
room," said John Bullen, one of the
flight nurses on the team.
Bullen has flown over 1,000 of
the program's flights.
He added that the purpose of
SurvivalFlight is to supplement the
care given by the Emergency Medi-
"It's a team concept," he said.
The flight nurses are all EMTs
andhaveextensivetraining inemer-
gency rooms as well as in various
intensivecareunits.They musthave
the ability to recognize a wide array
of injuries and have the knowledge
of their treatment.
"We are a Jack of all trades, a
master of none," said Flight Nurse

Russ Waggoner.
Despite the dramatic cases they
encounter each day, the nurses refuse
to discuss individual cases. Likewise,
they are undaunted by the number of
traumatic injuries they see firsthand.
"No flight is routine," Waggoner
said. "Every patient in their own right
gets special attention."
Tomaintain itshighrateofsuccess,
the program must operate at an amaz-
ing rate of speed. Within five minutes
of receiving a distress call, the flight
teamis airborne andon their way to the
With a flight radius of 150 miles it
can fly rescue missions to parts of
Ohio, Indiana, Canada as well as most
of Michigan.
Survival Flight is on standby 24
hours aday. Bullen estimated the team
averages four missions per day, al-
though that number dramatically in-
creases when tragedies strike.
"It's feast or famine," Communi-
cations Specialist Charlotte Yurkunas
The helicopters act as portable
trauma centers. In its cramped cabin,
each vehicle carries a heart monitor/
awide arrayofmedicationsandsplints,
as well as tanks of liquid oxygen.
Landing pads are situated on the
fourth floor ofthe Hospitals' Taubman
Center, across from the emergency
room parking lot and on the roof of
Mott Children's Hospital. They are
equipped with extensive fire fighting
equipment and have a heating system
to prevent snow accumulation in the
In its 10 years of operation, there

We areaflying
emergency room ."
John Bullen
Flight Nurse
have been no accidents or crashes in-
volving a Survival Flight aircraft. To
keep this streak going, the program
employs two full-time maintenance
workers to keep the helicopters in top
The pilots are a critical, but often
overlooked, part of the Flight team.
They must maneuver their crafts at
low altitudes amidst flying hazards.
Along with these dangers, they are
often required to land in spaces no
larger than a 7-11 convenience store
parking lot.
"We take alot of pridein doing our
job properly," Pilot Dave Davis said.
Despite their incredible rescue ca-
pabilities, Mother Nature can bring the
operation to a standstill.
If weather conditions are hazard-
ous andposeanimmediate threat to the
crew's safety, the pilot makes the deci-
sion to proceed. He must make this
determination without knowledge of
the victim's medical situation.
"The pilot is the final authority,"
said Dean Pode, site manager and lead
pilot for the program. "He stops the
aircraft from going into bad weather."
Pode said the helicopters play a
vital role in emergency medicine--a
role that often goes unappreciated.
"A lot of people think hospitals use
"I disagree. This is effective and it


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