Air ambulance? It happens every day | Guest Column

Members of the Island Air Ambulance crew; foreground, Dan Bacon, Jackie Hamilton, James Bryner.   - Contributed photo / Mark Mennie
Members of the Island Air Ambulance crew; foreground, Dan Bacon, Jackie Hamilton, James Bryner.
— image credit: Contributed photo / Mark Mennie

By Larry Wall

It happens every day.

Someone on our island needs emergency medical assistance. Suppose that you are the one, and flat on your back with chest pain.

You know something is wrong with you. Is it your heart? It is 9 a.m. What will you do?

We should know that calling 911 is the answer to this question. But what happens next? After you call 911, our county sheriff’s dispatch center answers the call. Depending on your emergency, the dispatcher pages the appropriate agency — EMS, fire department or Sheriff’s deputies.

In this scenario, the dispatcher calls for EMS (Emergency Medical System) to respond to your address. Within just a few minutes, expert EMS providers are in your living room providing state-of-the-art care. Using a 12-lead electrocardiogram, the paramedic on scene determines that you are having a heart attack.

In this case a paramedic elects to activate simultaneously Island Air Ambulance (your local airplane ambulance)and the cardiac catheterization lab at St Joseph’s Hospital, in Bellingham. You receive medications and are swiftly transported to the airport in Friday Harbor. At the airport you meet the air medical crew from Island Air Ambulance.

Because of your critical needs, EMS has requested two advanced air medical personnel. They include two critical care nurses, each a certified emergency nurse (CEN) and certified flight nurse (CFRN).

Between the two of them, they have 40 years of EMS experience. They continue the expert care started by the paramedics on scene and attend to you not only during your flight but also all the way to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where you are whisked away to meet the interventional cardiologist and the cardiac catheterization lab team.

At 11:15 a.m. you awake in the recovery room.

Your procedure is a success. The cardiology team is able to correct successfully a three vessel blockage in your heart.

The triage nurse comments that you are very fortunate.  “You were almost dead,” she says, as she reviews the chart of your care today.

This success would not have been possible had you waited any longer to contact 911. Since you live on an island, your survival would not have been possible were it not for Island Air Ambulance.

Is this story just make-believe?

No, it actually happened last month. Peter Strell of Friday Harbor experienced this very scenario and was willing to share his story. He notes, “The fast, effective response of EMS/Island Air Ambulance and the folks at St. Joe’s made the difference between my life and death. And it made the difference between a quick recovery and a lingering, impaired survival. I am impressed with the quality of focus, energy and equipment (and good humor) that the EMS team brought to the challenge.”

Island Air Ambulance/San Juan Island EMS and MedEvac is a nationally accredited, critical care air medical program that serves San Juan County 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  For more information go to www.islandairems.org.

— Editor’s note: Larry Wall is director of critical care transport for San Juan EMS/Island Air Ambulance. The column above is second in a series about the EMS-operated air ambulance service.


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