Biskin Lee is no stranger to hospitals. Born with a congenital heart problem, she underwent her first open-heart surgery at 14 years old. Unfortunately, mistakes were made during the surgery, and she had a series of heart attacks while on the table.
Despite her illness, this vibrant young woman has managed to get more out of her brief 34-years of life than most do in many more. She has traveled extensively, graduated from the University of California, Berkley with high honors in a degree she created herself, lived abroad in both England and Switzerland, and pursued a Master’s Degree at The London School of Economics in Philosophy and Public Policy.
Biskin says, “I’ve had a unique life because of my illness. It’s almost become a privilege, my disability, but at the same time, I suffer because of it.”
Like many times before, complications as a result of Biskin’s heart is why she found herself in the hospital last summer, and is ultimately, what led her to cross paths with the REACH crew.
Biskin was at Sonora Regional Medical Center near her hometown of Jamestown, California, and she needed to get to UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco fast. Because of being on blood thinners and numerous other complications, she was having a very serious uterine hemorrhage, and needed immediate help.
“My nurse must’ve called about 10 million places. No one wanted to pick me up because of the bad flying conditions. Then, she found REACH. They said they were absolutely willing to transport me.”
It was because of REACH’s specialty GPS routes that the crew was able to respond when other air programs weren’t. These proprietary routes allow our crews to safely transport patients even in inclement weather.
The REACH 56 crew out of Reno, Nevada got the call for the transport. Pilot, Tom Ormond, Flight Nurse, Francine Jones, and Flight Paramedic, Chad Midgley were the responding flight team.
“I’ve never had a patient that was so knowledgeable and helpful with their care,” says Francine. “From the moment we arrived at the hospital, Biskin was prepared to help us develop a game plan for her transport.”
Having a strategy in place before departing the hospital was critical for Biskin because of her left ventricular assist device or LVAD. An LVAD is a device that assists the heart in pumping blood to the rest of the body. However, like any other piece of electronic equipment, the LVAD doesn’t function without a power source. Therefore, before they even left her room, the flight crew had to have a fully formulated plan for keeping Biskin’s device powered up and working during the transport.
“It was really obvious to me that the crew cared a lot about my comfort,” says Biskin. “Having trust in your healthcare providers is incredibly important. If you do not feel safe, you cannot and should not move forward.”
With their strategy place and Biskin loaded into the aircraft, the crew prepared for takeoff. Despite it being her third emergency medical transport of the year, Biskin was still nervous about the flight.
“I was anxious about having to ride backwards,” says Biskin. “I didn’t mention anything until we were almost ready to leave, but once the crew heard I was nervous, they offered to unload and re-load all of the equipment so that I could ride facing forward.”
After reassuring the crew that she would be ok riding as she was, Biskin and the crew took to the skies and headed for San Francisco.
During the flight, Francine and Chad had the opportunity to learn more about Biskin and her condition.
“She is an incredible person,” says Francine. “She is extremely intelligent, really sweet, and very knowledgeable. She was able to tell us a lot about her condition and the modifications she’s made to her LVAD device to help make it more comfortable.”
While Francine and Chad were taking the chance to learn all they could about Biskin’s complex health issues, unbeknownst to them, they were providing Biskin with a level of comfort she desperately needed.
“Whenever I am transported, I go into this mode of just trying to put the situation out of my head because I need to relax, and they definitely picked up on that right away,” says Biskin. “The fact that we were all laughing a lot during the flight says a lot about the crew.”
It wasn’t long before they were touching down at San Francisco International Airport where an ambulance was waiting to transport Biskin to the care she needed at UCSF.
“I thought the flight crew was going to leave when the ambulance arrived, but they stayed with me all the way to my hospital room. They made sure I was comfortable there, before saying good-bye” says Biskin. “They really went above and beyond, which, in my experience is very rare and exceptional to find these days.”
Despite receiving the best possible care during her flight and her stay at UCSF, Biskin has a long road to recovery ahead of her. For years, she had been awaiting a heart transplant, but with her chances of rejection so high, her outlook was not great.
It wasn’t long after we met with Biskin that something wonderful happened. She took part in a clinical trial at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Southern California that lowered the level of antibodies in her blood and allowed for a successful transplant to happen.
This special woman is now on the mend and all of us at REACH are pulling for her. We hope that she continues to receive the medical care that she needs and deserves.