Air ambulance will help survival rates

"This aircraft is set up for two patients. We have all medications. We have a crash cart that's in an E.R., with all cardiac drugs. We have portable suction. Anything you see in a trauma room, we compact into a helicopter," says Missy Anderson, a fight nurse with California Shock Trauma Air Rescue.

For flight nurses Missy Anderson and Ernie Acebo, that equipment can be the difference between life or death at 500 feet. Within minutes of meeting them at the CALSTAR Hanger in Concord, the air ambulance lifts off for the first call of the day.

A 10 minute flight to Port Costa, where the victim is loaded from a stretcher, into a payload bay they say is both larger and better equipped than their older helicopters.

"Once he's on board, it's kind of like bringing the trauma room to the patient," said Acebo.

"We have a 40-year-old male. He was up a phone poll cutting wires when he sustained an electrocution," said one of the nurses.

The victim had 21,000 volts of electricity enter through the left hand, out through the right foot with some bone exposed in the right leg.

With burns over 40-percent of his body, a patient will head 40 miles east, to the specialized burn center at UC Davis. As they fly, the nurses work to stabilize his condition.

Clearly reaching a remote hospital like UC Davis might not even be practical with a traditional ground ambulance. Yet, earlier this year, CALSTAR, the air ambulance company serving the Bay Area, pushed its speed advantage even further.

"Time is pretty much everything in our business," said Ross Fay, a program manager with CALSTAR.

Fay says their newest helicopter cuts flight times in several ways.

"We are looking at a cruise speed on the new helicopter of 130 miles an hour verses 110 miles an hour in the other one. You can see that's on the order of 15 -20 percent increase," said Fay.

The engines are also designed to start up and slowdown more quickly.

"So if they go by ground and it's five minutes longer, that could be the five minutes whether they live or die," said Anderson.

On this day, the patient arrives at the E.R. in Davis, less than an hour after the crew first received the call in Concord. His condition was critical but stable. The rest is now up to surgeons on the ground.

"I'm certain that getting them to a surgeon quicker has made a big difference," said Acebo.

As for the patient featured in our report, he had surgery and received treatment for his burns at U.C. Davis and is still in recovery.

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