COVID-19 Patient Airlifted to Texas from JBLM

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The 62nd Airlift Wing’s quick action enabled a COVID-19 patient to be airlifted from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas on March 31.

The individual was a patient at Madigan Army Medical Center at JBLM. The person was in severe respiratory distress and had undergone an earlier surgery to be hooked up to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) system. The system pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside of the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.

Earlier that day, an aircrew made up of Airmen from the 4th and 7th Airlift Squadrons picked up an aeromedical evacuation team from the 775th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation flight at Travis Air Force Base, California. The evacuation team members are experts in caring for patients during flights.

“The timing (of loading and takeoff) is a little more flexible (with an aeromedical flight) than it normally is just based on the needs of the mission,” said Maj. Ian Scott, 4th Airlift Squadron pilot. “The biggest thing we have to be mindful of (with mission planning for an AE flight) is what type of restrictions the patient’s condition would have on the environment in the airplane.”

The patient was being transported to the San Antonio Military Medical Center. The center has more experts of the ECMO system available who are readily able to maintain or repair it if something went wrong.

The patient arrived at the aircraft with several additional medical professionals from Madigan trained in keeping the ECMO system running. Before their arrival, the AE crew covered their luggage and equipment in plastic bags to lessen the risk of cross-contamination and everyone on the aircraft wore the appropriate personal protective equipment.

“What we do is to make sure that the patient’s transportation goes smoothly and safely,” said Maj. Paul Blycheck, 775th EAEF medical crew director. “We have to consider the safety of the patient, and everyone involved – the AE crew, the pilots, and loadmasters – especially when it’s something contagious, like COVID-19.”

The patient was hooked up to a full ventilator, in addition to the ECMO system, so anything they breathed out was contained, Blycheck said.

The crew successfully took off later that night and transported the patient to the San Antonio Military Medical Center where they were evaluated.

“It was good to see all of these individuals from different branches and bases come together last minute to potentially save this patient’s life,” said Col. Robert Lankford, 62nd Operations Group commander. “I am proud of the Airmen of the 62nd Airlift Wing for making the mission happen.”

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