Medical care at 15,000 feet

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- On the ground and in the air, airmen in this part of the world can rest assured that medical care is always close by.

If a person is injured, medical personnel on the ground stabilize and treat the injured individual. But if that person needs to be transported by air for specialized care, a team of medical professionals from the 379th Aeromedical Squadron are just a short flight away.

On any given day, they might haul patients from any airfield in the AOR to collection points, where they then might be airlifted to Europe or America, depending on the needs of the patient.

"It's very rewarding work," said 1st Lt. Matt Smith, a flight nurse and medical crew director. As the medical crew director, he oversees the patient treatment and acts as a liaison between the medical team on board and the aircrew flying the plane. The lieutenant is deployed here from the Minnesota Air National Guard.

He said some days can be dull when the crew sits on alert waiting for something to happen. On Jan. 28, though, something did happen. A Turkish national in Afghanistan needed transport to Baghdad to receive specialized care.

Lieutenant Smith and his crew jumped into action, preparing a C-130 to airlift the patient to Baghdad. C-130s are a versatile aircraft and can perform a variety of missions, including aeromedical evacuation.

The crew loaded equipment and supplies onto the plane, configured the litters and waited for a Minnesota ANG C-130 carrying the patient to arrive from Afghanistan.

As the Minnesota cargo plane taxied into position on the tarmac at an undisclosed location, the lieutenant's crew put the finishing touches on their C-130 deployed here from Pope Air Force Base, N.C.

Aircraft tail to aircraft tail, the patient transfer took place. The patient, who had a coma-producing concussion from a two-vehicle accident, was in guarded condition for his ride to Baghdad.

"From what I was told, I believe he was the only survivor in the vehicle he was riding in," the lieutenant said.

Watching over the patient during the second leg of his flight was Capt. (Dr.) Erik von Rosenvinge, a physician deployed here from Andrews AFB, Md., as part of a critical care air transport team. On the team with Dr. von Rosenvinge is Capt. Lionel Lyde, a nurse, and Senior Airman Deanna Rodriguez, a respiratory therapist.

The doctor said his role was to monitor the patient and treat any symptoms. In this case, the patient's brain had stopped making a chemical that affects the kidneys, a condition known as diabetes insipidus. As such, the patient was voiding around two liters of urine an hour, bringing on dehydration and low potassium.

To combat that, the doctor prescribed fluids to rehydrate the patient and lower his sodium levels, and he prescribed extra potassium to replace what was being lost.

"Most people urinate less than a hundred milliliters an hour, and this guy is losing two liters an hour. That's a lot," he said.

About three hours later, the C-130 carrying the patient touched down in Baghdad. The medical crew, dressed in full battle gear, transferred the patient to a waiting Army helicopter, which immediately took off for a hospital in Baghdad where a neurosurgeon could have the patient's brain scanned and treat him.

Mission accomplished.