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LifeFlight first in state to offer ECMO transport via helicopter

Dec. 13, 2018, 9:21 AM

Vanderbilt LifeFlight’s Sheldon Dreaddy, MSN, RN, left, and John Krantz, CCP, use a simulated patient to train for transporting critical patients who are on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). (Susan Urmy)

by Jerry Jones

Vanderbilt LifeFlight is part of an elite group of air ambulance services across the country that offer emergency transport of critically ill patients who are on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), and it is the first helicopter program in Tennessee to offer this highly skilled, specialized transport.

ECMO is a treatment that uses a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung back into the bloodstream, acting as an artificial heart and lung for the patient during ECMO therapy.

LifeFlight’s airplane and ground ambulances have been providing ECMO transport since 2016. Now, having gained experience with more than 50 of those transports, it seemed a natural transition to the helicopter. The airplane has been used on patients who are too far away for a helicopter (St. Louis and Johnson City, Tennessee, are two examples). The use of the helicopter will expedite the transport and treatment of those patients within a 130-mile radius of VUMC.

Additionally, to be able to transport patients when weather will not permit them to fly, Vanderbilt will invest in two large specialized ground ambulances, one of which will be available 24/7 for ECMO and other critically ill patients. A team of five critical care paramedics and five advanced emergency medical technicians are being hired to staff these ambulances.

Additional staffing will be provided from the adult Emergency Department and from the flight crew.

“We are thrilled to be able to partner with our colleagues in cardiology and surgery to be able to train our expert staff and work with the ECMO teams,” said Stephan Russ, MD, associate chief of staff.

The mode of transport typically used for ECMO patients includes helicopter, fixed-wing plane or ambulance and depends on several factors, including distance and weather. Vanderbilt LifeFlight will now be able to quickly determine what is best for the patient and mobilize the best team and transport option. With the additional two ground specialized ambulances, Vanderbilt LifeFlight has a fleet of 11 ground ambulances, eight helicopters and one airplane.

All air operations are provided by Air Methods Corporation. All air medical services are provided by Vanderbilt University Medical Center, as are all ground transport operations and medical services.

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