Imagine you suffer a serious infection weeks after your knee replacement. Or you’re hunting on Kodiak Island and slip and break your leg. Or you suffer a heart attack close to home. Do you know what would happen next? How would you get to a medical facility that can handle the level of care you need? Would you get there fast enough?
These are all true stories of Alaskans who’ve suffered a life-threatening injury or illness and are here to tell their stories, thanks to the excellent medical care they received and the air ambulance aircraft and crew that got them there in time.
Read on for stories of survival from those who experienced it firsthand.
Rod H. of Haines, Alaska
In April of this year, Rod went through a total knee replacement and for weeks after the surgery, seemed to be recovering as planned. Even a visit to his physical therapist six weeks later revealed a clean bill of health. Yet, midsleep that night, he woke up to a severe staph infection that
materialized in just a few hours.
He called the local clinic for an urgent appointment, and upon arrival to the ER, was told he needed to be airlifted to Juneau immediately. His doctor requested a transport and Guardian Flight flew him 85 miles in the middle of the night. (For comparison, the trip by ferry would have taken 4.5 hours.)
Guardian Flight went above and beyond treating Rod during his transport. He remembers the crew getting him very carefully onto the plane (severe staph infections are incredibly painful). In route to Juneau, the medics constantly checked in on his pain level and kept him “distracted,” as he puts it, by asking him about his line of work. “Guardian put me at ease. The whole process was professional, and they showed they truly cared—that it wasn’t just a job for them.”
When arriving in Juneau, a Guardian crew member accompanied him in the ambulance to the emergency room. As he was recovering a couple of days later, Rod was paid a visit by another crew member who’s also a nurse. “They didn’t have to do that, but they did,” he remarks.
This was not Rod’s first experience with a medevac. He was flown to Anchorage by Guardian nine years ago.
“Both times I received excellent care,” he notes. Rod would know as he’s no stranger to medical transports, often accompanying victims in ambulances during his time as a police officer in Arkansas. During his own transport, he was “really comforted” by his pilot’s confidence, professionalism and ability to “buckle down and make it happen.” “We can have very bad weather up here, so you have to rely on the pilot’s judgement,” Rod notes. When giving his final thoughts on the situation he stated: “When new residents stop by my shop in Haines, the first thing I tell them is to get a medevac membership. It’s a matter of life and death up here. The only option we have in rural Alaska are medevacs.”
Becca M. of Wasilla, Alaska
Becca M. was out on her first fly-in hunting trip to Kodiak Island in October 2010 with her husband and a friend. After successfully harvesting a mountain goat, they made their way down a steep grassy hill to get back to camp. In contrast to the dry morning, rain had made the hill slicker than Becca expected. Suddenly, she found herself sliding faster and faster down the hill, until her left boot hit a rock and she instantly knew she had broken her leg.
Her hunting companions started making calls to the state troopers on their satellite phone. Poor visibility meant an air rescue was going to be a challenge, and rescuers were initially hesitant to come. Eventually, a Coast Guard medevac conducted a “basket rescue” and airlifted Becca to the town of Kodiak. Unfortunately, her husband wasn’t able to join her per Coast Guard rules.
For Becca, time was of the essence in order to reduce the risk of losing her leg below the knee. Once Becca’s leg was confirmed broken by the hospital in Kodiak, she needed to be transported to a higher level of care—and fast. A Guardian aircraft was dispatched the following day to take her to Anchorage, as there was no orthopedic surgeon on the island. After being seen by the surgeon, emergency surgery realigned her leg with metal rods and screws.
Many years after her accident, Becca notes, “you never expect to have an emergency, but when you need that kind of help, [medevacs] are invaluable. I don’t what we would have done or what my long-term health would have been if I wasn’t flown to Anchorage.”
Mike E. of Ketchikan Alaska
Mike E. of Ketchikan is normally a pretty healthy and active guy. That’s why he was very surprised to feel unusually dizzy and weak one November day after working out. In realizing something was wrong, he went to the local medical center in Ketchikan. As he put it: the good news was the medical team knew what happened, the bad news: he had a heart attack.
The skillful staff at the medical center in Ketchikan quickly realized Mike needed specialty resources in order to minimize damage from the heart attack. After stabilizing him, they coordinated an emergency transport with Guardian Flight to a higher level of care in Bellingham.
“I had been told the event I had could have been a ‘widow maker’ and that if I hadn’t gotten care when I got it, that it could have gone the other way pretty quickly,” he notes.
After a few days in the hospital in Bellingham, Mike was discharged and on his way back to Ketchikan. “I was actually surprised by the whole process and how seamless it was. I arrived in a matter of hours in front of one of the best cardiac teams in country, and the Guardian Flight crew made that happen,” he said.
Beyond recognizing the smooth transportation logistics, Mike was especially grateful his wife was able to accompany him all the way to Bellingham. Most private air ambulance companies, like Guardian Flight, typically allow an accompanying passenger to fly with the person being transported, depending on space and fuel. Having a family member or friend by your side during such an emotional and distressing experience makes all the difference, Mike says.
Now, almost a year after his heart attack, he doesn’t take anything for granted. “I’m so grateful Guardian Flight was there.” He passes on advice from his experience by urging other residents to sign up for a membership with each local air ambulance company. “You’d be crazy to live in southeast Alaska without a membership. I was thankful we had opted for one.” Mike chuckles as he says, “now my goal is to make sure that I don’t become a frequent flyer.”
We’ve chosen to call Alaska home because we love the remote lifestyle and rugged opportunities it offers. However, that doesn’t mean we should be penalized for being far away from medical care. That’s why air ambulance providers exist to provide peace of mind that we’ll be taken care of when we need it. Just ask Rod, Becca and Mike.