It was a foggy, cloudy, stay-at-home day in Whitethorn, California, and staying at home is exactly what Evelyn King intended to do. Evelyn and her husband, Everett, moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to this small and stunning Lost Coast community in 2000, where they enjoy 16 acres of land they started investing in many years prior to the move. Their children Evan (39) and Melissa (37) eventually migrated to the area, as well. “We were always a camping family,” Evelyn says, “so being out in wide open spaces, living in the out of doors, that’s comfortable for us.” In fact, the camping came before the family. “Everett and I spent our two-week honeymoon camping all up and down California and into Oregon,” says Evelyn.
This particular February day, however, has “indoors” written all over it. Until Evelyn’s cozy plans were interrupted. “I started to have chest pains,” she says. “I didn’t know if they were serious or not, so I told my husband I thought we should go to the emergency room.” The couple got in their car and headed for Jerold Phelps Community Hospital in Garberville, about 45 minutes away. Upon examining Evelyn, doctors there felt she needed more specialized resources than they could offer, and they wanted Evelyn to receive that care as soon as possible. As to where she would receive that care, she had two choices: 150 miles east in Redding or 150 miles south in Santa Rosa. “My sister-in-law lives in Santa Rosa,” Evelyn says, “so it was an easy choice.” Evelyn would be transferred to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
The weather had worsened since the Kings arrival in Garberville, so much so that a helicopter could not safely land. The good news: Cal-Ore has a medically-equipped airplane in Fortuna. Hospital staff carefully loaded her into an ambulance, and off she went. She would go by ground to Fortuna, fly to the airport in Santa Rosa and then take another brief ambulance ride to Memorial Hospital. She was afraid the rain would just complicate an already-stressful situation and add to her discomfort, but it didn’t. “The whole trip was handled so professionally, and I felt really comfortable with the various EMTs and transporters,” Evelyn comments. “I felt safe and secure.”
The Cal-Ore flight crew was ready and waiting. When Evelyn arrived, Pilot Doug McCallum, Flight Nurse C.J. Janisse and Flight Paramedic Ryan Samuelson introduced themselves. They conferred with the ambulance crew regarding Evelyn’s condition and needs. They told Evelyn what they would do to care for her and briefed her on aircraft safety. And then they took off.
Pilot Doug McCallum has worked in flight medicine for five years, and his love of flying goes way back. “When I was six years old, my family moved to a tiny little island in Alaska,” he says. “We had to fly everywhere; it was the only way to get anywhere. Once I sat next to the pilot, I was hooked. As soon as I got out of high school, I went to flight school.”
Evelyn was still feeling scared when she got to Fortuna. “I don’t remember much of what the crew said to me at first,” she admits. “At that point I was still very fearful.”
Doug always talks to patients before take-off, either inside the hospital or while they are being loaded onto the plane. Of the latter, he says, “That’s when they’re probably starting to get the most fearful. I introduce myself. I tell them where we’re taking them and how long the flight will be, and I ask them if they’ve flown before.”
Paramedic Ryan Samuelson, who has been with Cal-Ore for seven years, confirms that attentiveness to fear and anxiety levels is an important piece of patient care. “It’s also important to remember that the consequences of illness or injury can be much more severe as we get older,” he states. Ryan lives in Fortuna, where he is happy to share a home with son Philo (8), daughter Geneva (12), niece Brandy (16), girlfriend Robin and her daughter Alex (15). “I enjoy my work environment, too,” he shares. “It’s dynamic, and I like the people I work with. We get to know each other really well because the turnover at Cal-Ore is so low.”
Evelyn appreciated the crew’s awareness of her trepidation. “I got to lie down, and they got the oxygen going. They made me feel comfortable, and the fear went away,” she says. Evelyn says she was surprised by one thing. “The plane had much more medical equipment on it than I expected!” she says. “That made me feel good. I knew that if I went into cardiac arrest, they could handle it because they had what they needed.”
Throughout the flight, C.J. and Ryan remained focused on Evelyn. Evelyn was glad that she finally felt somewhat relaxed. “While we were flying,” she says, “I could look out the window and see the stars above the fog. The flight crew regularly asked me how I was doing, and they kept me comfortable.” The transport went smoothly, as did Doug’s landing in Santa Rosa. “When we got to Memorial Hospital, they had a room ready, and the Cal-Ore crew took me right to my bed. They didn’t just leave me waiting alone at the ER, so I never felt abandoned or ‘turned over’.”
Doctors at Memorial took excellent care of Evelyn. They kept her for three nights to assure she remained stable and to confirm the cause of her chest pain. They delivered good news—Evelyn did not have a serious heart problem. “It turns out I had what’s called a coronary artery spasm. It was basically a muscle spasm in my heart. The doctors told me that spasms rarely lead to heart attack, and the pain never got really bad. It wasn’t like I had an elephant sitting on my chest. It was more like a German Shepard,” she reports.
Another positive point that while Evelyn was at Memorial, doctors ordered multiple tests. “If I hadn’t gone to the hospital, I would have had to have made individual trips for each test. It would have taken months to get them all done,” she says. “Now I don’t have to worry about that.”
All in all, Evelyn’s experience was very positive. “I would never have expected everything to go as smoothly and comfortably as it did,” she shares. “The thing I remember most is the attention from the crew. They were really in touch with what was going on. If my husband had had to drive me the entire way, we both would have been afraid the whole time.”
It is because of patients like Evelyn that Doug loves his job. “I tried flying for a commercial airline,” he says, “but it wasn’t for me. This is the only aviation job out there that can give me this rewarding feeling.”
How’s Evelyn doing these days? “I’ve been feeling really good,” she says. “No more heart issues. I’m back to all my volunteer work with the senior center and our church community.” She’s also back to enjoying time with Everett, and to tending to their home and property, as well as their two dogs and two cats.
Evelyn shares, “I’m just so grateful there is air ambulance service in our area. While I was at Memorial, I’d go to the window that looked out on the helipad. I saw helicopters landing one after the other over the course of the day. It made me really realize what an important part of our healthcare system air transport is.”
Everyone at Cal-Ore agrees. We’re honored to offer service in Evelyn’s region, and we wish the Kings a lifetime of happiness together in their beautiful coastal kingdom.