March 12, 2004

Vanderbilt extends reach of LifeFlight with fixed wing

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The Beechcraft King Air E90 is one of the airplanes LifeFlight is using as part of their new fixed wing program. The plane will soon be painted Vanderbilt black and gold. Photo by Dana Johnson

Vanderbilt extends reach of LifeFlight with fixed wing

Vanderbilt LifeFlight is now providing a way for any child or adult — located almost anywhere in the world — to have access to the specialized care provided by Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Since last June, LifeFlight has been building a steady business of “fixed wing” flights, utilizing either a propeller airplane (a Beechcraft King Air E90) or an internationally configured Lear jet. The fixed wing program has made more than 130 flights since it began eight months ago, including flights to Cairo, Egypt, and Mexico City.

LifeFlight nurse Chris Rediker, manager of the fixed wing program, said the new transportation method immediately proved its value when an explosion at an industrial site in Kentucky left several patients badly burned.

“Within minutes of receiving a call requesting our assistance, our program director, Jeanne Yeatman, scrambled a crew, equipment, and an airplane together, and we were able to assist in transporting the patients to Vanderbilt's Burn Center,” Rediker said. “After the patients arrived, the plane was then sent to pick up donor skin to further support the care that these patients would need over the next few hours and days. At that time, we realized how valuable a fixed wing program could be to our community.”

The types of patients transported on the airplane reflect Vanderbilt's unique services, Rediker explained, and allow Vanderbilt’s LifeFlight program to respond appropriately. That could be by rotor wing (helicopter), fixed wing (propeller airplane or Lear jet) or by ground (ambulance).

With a contract in place to immediately secure one of four Lear jets, Vanderbilt LifeFlight is able to fly almost anywhere in the world to pick up patients and bring them back to Vanderbilt for care. Patients seeking treatment at Vanderbilt are often looking for specialized care that can’t be found elsewhere in the region.

“Vanderbilt houses the Regional Burn Center under the direction of Dr. Jeffery Guy, Other than a small Burn Unit in Chattanooga, all of the burn injuries east of Nashville are seen at Vanderbilt. [The Medical Center’s] neonatal and pediatric services are also in high demand since Vanderbilt is the only facility in Tennessee that offers ECMO and cardiac surgery to neonates and children east of Nashville,” Rediker said. “We have also transported several patients to Vanderbilt for potential organ transplant.”

Two LifeFlight nurses staff the airplane, but the crew configuration is adapted to patient needs.

For instance, a physician could fly if needed on international flights; a neonatal nurse practitioner, neonatal transport nurse and a LifeFlight nurse would fly on neonatal flights. LifeFlight has converted one of the neonatal Angel ambulances for use with pediatric and adult patients with this ambulance transporting patients to and from the airport.

The fixed wing aircraft is just one component of a strategic plan that provides for integrated transportation services including fixed wing (airplane), helicopter, and critical care ground transportation along with an emergency communications center.

“Vanderbilt now provides a sophisticated integrated transportation system where we use the right vehicle for the right patient at the right time,” explained John A. Morris, Jr., M.D., professor of Surgery and director of the Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care at Vanderbilt.

Morris serves as LifeFlight’s medical director and has overseen the air ambulance program’s growth since its inception.

“One telephone call is all it takes,” he said. “And we’ll take it from there.”

That integrated system includes three LifeFlight helicopters (Nashville, Clarksville and Shelbyville); the fixed wing aircraft; and Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Angel Ambulance (for critically ill newborn patients that are located within driving distance of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital).