AeroMd’s medical team and flight crew logged hundreds of miles and saved lives this week with four air ambulance trips in three days.
The company keeps three fixed-wing planes at the Bohlke hanger on St. Croix – one can transport two patients at a time. All are equipped with equipment and medications to treat most emergency situations.
“Basically, we’re a walking ICU. We have the same equipment as an ER,” said Jason Henry, special operations coordinator and emergency medical technician.
On each flight, there are two pilots, two or three medical staff, the patient and usually a family member.
Last Sunday, AeroMd began its medevac marathon transporting a patient to Puerto Rico who had been injured in the carnival parade. The crew returned to its St. Croix base early in the morning and a second crew was dispatched Monday afternoon to help the victim of an auto accident and transport him to the mainland to save his life. They flew at low altitudes because of his injuries.
“It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked on a single patient,” AeroMd paramedic Justin McConnell said.
That crew returned to St. Croix Tuesday morning and a mission was requested around 9 a.m. to transport a patient with back problems from St. Croix to Florida.
Medical airlift flights average 10 hours. AeroMd provides bedside-to-bedside care.
Tuesday morning around 9 a.m. Henry was called to pick up the medical team at Bohlke. They loaded a stretcher and portable equipment from the hanger into the ambulance and unloaded everything for a 10 a.m. meeting at Juan Luis Hospital.
The medical crew- McConnell, Henry and Cari Baun, a critical care nurse – assessed the patient’s condition to make sure she was stable to fly and that her vital statistics had not changed overnight. They also spoke with health care workers, and before they moved reported everything over the phone to Dr. Brandon Anzalone, president of the company and former Air Force emergency room physician.
From the first moment AeroMd is called into action, Anzalone is kept in the loop through a satellite phone and group emails.
“If we’re unable to communicate, everything falls apart,” Henry said.
Before they moved the patient, her personal items and her relative’s things to the ambulance, Baun went through a checklist. She went over the list with the team four or five times throughout the process. Once the patient was safely strapped into the ambulance with the medical team, her relative climbed in the front with Henry.
“We have enough meds to run two ICU patients, including life support and blood products if needed,” Baun said. McConnell and Baun chatted easily with the patient during the ride to the airport.
At the Bohlke hanger, the plane was parked near the gate and hooked to a generator powered air-conditioner so the patient did not become overheated. Baun went through a pre-flight checklist with the pilot, Ian Speed, and reported everything to the dispatch and to Anzalone. Throughout the flight, progress and the patient’s condition were monitored via satellite email to St. Croix dispatch, Anzalone and the accepting hospital in Florida. The receiving hospital is kept appraised of progress so an ambulance and Customs can meet the plane.
It had taken the team more than three hours from the time the call came in until the aircraft lifted off the ground and a few hours later, the backup team was called out for a flight to St. Thomas.
Every move the team made was efficient and professional. Anzalone said the medical personnel they hire go though “rigorous selection” and they receive continuing education. The air ambulance company has flown over 900 missions throughout the Caribbean since they opened the business in 2015. The home base is St. Croix and the operations center is minutes away from the hospital.
“I think through our actions, we have proven we are here to help – truly a concierge service,” Anzalone said.
AeroMd added to their Caribbean experience during and after the 2017 hurricanes. Their satellite phone was an important tool that allowed them to set up satellite and tactical operations at the airports after their infrastructure was destroyed. They flew over 100 missions and assisted the local government, FEMA and the government of the British Virgin Islands.
“It was amazing to see people from all over the world come here in response,” Anzalone said.
Henry said within the first hours after Hurricane Irma, AeroMd had established a base on St. Thomas. They treated the injured and watched as boats and helicopters arrived with survivors, who were evacuated as quickly as possible to St. Croix and Puerto Rico.
Henry described watching vehicles line up “like a taxi stand” eight to ten deep on the tarmac in St. Thomas to deliver people, and at the St. Croix and San Juan airports to receive evacuees.
When Hurricane Maria approached two weeks later, AeroMd again started their engines. They moved people from St. Thomas, St. Croix and Puerto Rico to Florida. As the storm drew closer, the aircraft flew north to keep the planes safe. Afterwards, fragile adults and children were moved off-island once more.
“It was the most rewarding work I’ve ever done and certainly the hardest – 13 to 14 hours a day,” Baun said about the aftermath.