Saturday, November 8, 2014

REACT: Ambulance in the sky

Flight nurse Tony Rehberg, Kristi Lohmar, REACT supervisor and pilot Dan McDade stand in front of the REACT helicopter in Rockford. The helicopter fits all three personnel and a patient, and can fly to cities as far as Chicago and Milwaukee if needed.


Teams of three fly out from Rockford Memorial Hospital in the REACT helicopter with the hopes of providing fast care to patients in need. While the team pairings change, Kristi Lohmar, Tony Rehberg and pilot Dan McDade have worked together for the last several years.

Rehberg has been a flight nurse for REACT for the last 23 years just a couple years shy of when the program started in 1987. Lohmar, the medical-based supervisor and manager, has been with REACT for about 10 years, and McDade has been a pilot since 2008. In all, the REACT team has eight medical personnel, four pilots and two mechanics.

“(The program) first started in 1987 as a nurse and paramedic team, and evolved to a nurse and nurse team,” Lohmar said. “Now that we are affiliated with (Rockford Memorial Hospital) we have slowly gone back to a nurse and paramedic team.”

While the job is very demanding, none of them can imagine doing anything else. Lohmar described the job as “very humbling.”

“It humbles me to see people in their darkest hour, and we are there to bring some light and do what we can to bring them to a place to help them even more,” she said.

Being a flight nurse was a goal of Lohmar’s since she decided to go into nursing.

“It’s about being there for someone who is in a critical situation, and to be challenged with the unknown,” she said. “We help infants, children, toddlers, adults. The whole mix of it all is challenging.”

You always remember the first flights to serious injuries. McDade remembers his second flight to an 11-year-old girl who was run over by a truck about 18 years ago. He remembers because she was the same age as his son at the time of the accident.

“She was pretty bad,” he said. “I’m not a medical person, and I don’t pretend to be, but I know when it is bad. She ended up living. I saw her a year later and she came back and visited. It really affected me a lot because I saw how vulnerable life is, and how quick it can be taken away.”

Despite the challenges and difficulties of the job, part of the attraction is that no two days are the same, Rehberg said.

“I don’t think any of us would go back to the bedside being a nurse,” he said. “The level of autonomy that this job provides, and the care that we give is so much greater than other nurse positions. We are working for the doctor.”

Rehberg said they have to train on the helicopter due to limited space compared to an ambulance.

However, the advantage to such limited space is that everything is within arms reach.

“We’re a flying ambulance,” he said “We train to operate in the aircraft. All the treatments that we do we can do in that tight space. It’s a higher level of care than a paramedic ambulance. We all come with at least five years experience before we start flying. We have to have that background to be able to move into this position where we are functioning outside of a hospital and doing essentially the same thing we would do in a hospital, but without a doctor.”

The higher level of care is needed in order to get the patient to the necessary hospital for treatment. It takes about 10 minutes for the helicopter to get into the air after a call comes in, but the travel time is cut down by more than half compared to driving an ambulance.

“Madison is about 30 minutes away, Beloit is about 10 minutes, Freeport is about 12,” Rehberg said.

And the crew has a pretty wide radius on where they fly including Chicago, Galena, Ill. and Milwaukee. Where a patient is taken is obviously dependent on the location of the incident, and the severity of the injury.

“I think it’s important that you not only compress the time, but you’ve amplified the level of care,” McDade said. “By doing that, your chances of a successful outcome is higher.”

Patients are loaded into the back of the helicopter, and the two medical crews sit facing the back of the aircraft. The stretcher fits perfectly near the tail. Heart rate monitors, IVs and other medical supplies are all above the patient, attached securely to the walls of the aircraft.

About six months ago, REACT was approved to operate on Instrument Flight Rules through the Federal Aviation Administration. IFR is used by aircraft when visibility is low, and traffic is controlled from the ground.

“On cloudy days IFR allows aircraft to fly via instruments, and over highways in the sky,” Rehberg said. “It’s under direct control of the FAA and it allows us to fly directly to the airport.”

On sunny days, REACT can fly a patient directly to the hospital, but on days with low visibility IFR will direct them to an airport closest to the hospital.

“It provides a much higher level of safety to go directly to the airport because they are federally regulated approaches and you won’t hit a tower or anything,” Rehberg said. “So in that aspect it’s a safety mechanism. Hopefully in the future we will get a couple approaches into different hospitals that we frequent, which will allow us to go directly to those hospitals in less than favorable weather conditions.”

- Source:  http://www.beloitdailynews.com

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