Saving lives through the air -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Saving lives through the air

May 12, 2003

Jacksonville, FL-- They save countless lives each year, working hundreds of feet in the air in a small, confined helicopter. The Baptist Life Flight Crew provides critical, immediate care to patients throughout South Georgia and North Florida. When you're in a life threatening situation, the crew's response time is twice as fast as that you'd receive on the ground. 

It's another day on the job and in the air for the Baptist Life Flight crew. Their mission is simple-- to provide rapid, critical transport. "We're just part of a big piece of the puzzle, and we all work to get the patients back to where they can be taken care of properly," says Chief Medic Charles Usery.

But before that can happen, it takes a lot of preparation. Much of their time is spent gearing up for the day's flights. "We check all the equipment, making sure we have everything we need on the aircraft."

Pilot Greg Horwath makes sure the day's weather will permit flights. "We have to have an 800 ft. ceiling and at least two miles visibility. Anything less and company won't allow it."

Then they anxiously await the call from headquarters. "From the time we get toned out from our headquarters, it would take right around five minutes to get off the ground," says Pilot Greg Horwath. The life flight crew consists of a pilot, paramedic, and nurse. Each of those has at least five years field experience and takes part in over 700 transports each year.

This time its a trip over the water to Jacksonville Beach. "Lifeflight 1 be advised the patient is a 42-year-old male with vascular compromise," says the radio dispatcher. "We assume every patient we carry is critical, and they're really like a puzzle. We're going through the process of solving that puzzle to help keep them alive," says Horwath.

Lifeflight 1 is approaching landing. Once the patient's loaded, its a constant struggle to keep him calm and comfortable. Chief Paramedic Charles Usery and Flight Nurse Peggy Saums agree teamwork is the key. "Back here my partner and I a lot of times don't even talk. He knows what I'm doing, I know what he's doing, and its a symphony of sorts."

And working in a small, confined space, flying 800 feet from the ground through sometimes strong winds and bumpy air pockets isn't always easy. "In the summer its very hot, and your adrenaline is pumping making it seem even warmer, and it can get very tense in here," said Flight Nurse Peggy Saum.

In just 11 minutes, the crew transports the patient 18 miles. On the ground, the trip would have taken more than half an hour. "At the speeds we travel, you have to do it much faster in order to have the care done before you get back to the hospital,"  says Pilot Fred McCoy.

The patient is wheeled to the E.R. and rushed into surgery. Another successful transport is complete. "Basically one of his major vessels that supplies blood to his lower extremities was blocked so lifeflight was called to provide rapid transport so he could go to the O. R. and get that blockage fixed so he doesn't lose his limbs."

Rescues like these make the crew's job worth the while. "It's really rewarding when six months later somebody comes up and says 'I remember you, you were the pilot when you came out to help us.'"

"They make a difference in my life in that I appreciate my life a lot more." One call from headquarters and this crew will be at your rescue within minutes, dedicated heroes giving you immediate, life-saving care.

Most Life Flight pilots are former military and have thousands of flight hours. The paramedics have at least five years experience. Flight nurses are also certified paramedics.

The crew is based in Jacksonville, Florida. It's Georgia territory runs from the Coast to as far west as Albany.

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