Dick and Elizabeth Power of Vidalia, Louisiana, were enjoying a late summer trip visiting national parks as part of a guided tour group. One day he and Elizabeth split from the guided tour to meet up with his sister who lives near Yellowstone Park. Being familiar with the area, she planned to give them a personal tour. Somewhere around 9,000 feet—a far cry from Vidalia’s modest 66-foot elevation—Mr. Power’s body protested. At 81, he has maintained exemplary vitality and health, but he could tell he’d crossed a line. “I had an unstable feeling, and I was completely out of breath,” he says. “I knew I’d gone past my limit.”
Mr. Power was struggling to breathe and he wisely told the folks in charge of the tour that he needed to get to a doctor. His only job now was to keep calm—and keep breathing—while making his way to the nearest of Yellowstone’s medical clinics. The staff at Old Faithful Clinic attended to Mr. Power as soon as he arrived, anxious to monitor his heart and track his oxygen saturation levels. They was a possibility of cardiac stress, and they were concerned about hypoxia. Commonly referred to as altitude sickness, hypoxia is the oxygen deprivation that occurs when someone moves to a higher elevation faster than their body can acclimate. It can lead to potentially fatal complications like fluid accumulation in the lungs and swelling of the brain.
When the clinic staff saw Mr. Power’s EKG, they were very concerned; their patient needed specialized care beyond what they could offer. With no time to waste, doctors requested a helicopter. This is where REACH entered the story. Named 2015 Program of the Year by the Association of Air Medical Services, REACH has nearly 30 years of transport experience and has completed more than 100,000 successful patient transports. Within minutes the flight crew at REACH 24 in Bozeman was headed their way. On board with pilot Dillon Kundert were Flight Nurse Jeff Myers and Flight Paramedic Jacob DeVries. In just over half an hour, they would have Mr. Power on his way to Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital, a certified Level III Trauma Center.
When the REACH crew arrived, they found that the clinic staff had done a great job stabilizing the patient. In fact, Mr. Power’s sense of humor was starting to upstage his distress. “We joked back and forth,” he remembers. “I think that sort of surprised the crew, but I believe it’s important to be able to laugh at your situation.” He was grateful for the atmosphere of ease and comfort he experienced in flight. “The crew was so easy to get along with,” he says. “All three of them were very reassuring, and they answered all of my questions.”
Flight Nurse Jeff Myers, who is also the Bozeman base’s Medical Crew Lead with a staff of 10 medics and nurses, has over 30 years of nursing experience. He has been flying out of Bozeman since the base opened four years ago. As a result, he has witnessed the positive impact of an emergency transport option for both residents of and visitors to the region. “Prior to the opening of the Bozeman base, the closest available helicopters were in Billings, Montana or Idaho Falls, Idaho. Billings is roughly 120 miles from Yellowstone—and Idaho Falls is a 45-minute flight. Bozeman is less than 80 miles away. That was all there was,” Jeff states. “We’re grateful to offer another air medical transport option that provides more comprehensive coverage.”
Jeff and Jacob have top level critical care skills, and they were prepared to do whatever was necessary to deliver Mr. Power safely to doctors at Bozeman Deaconess. “The altitude issue is kind of a common thing around here,” Jeff states. “For people with outstanding cardiac conditions, the altitude can act as a stress test and they may have a return of their chest discomfort.” Jeff is happy to report, however, that Mr. Power’s transport was uneventful. “The clinic had done all the right stuff. Now he just needed to be transported in an environment where someone could medically intervene if necessary. Luckily we didn’t have to. I remember him looking out the window at the scenery. Not many people get to fly over Yellowstone. You see some pretty amazing sights.”
Mr. Power confirms Jeff’s statement. “I’ve flown on helicopters before, but never in that type of country. They put a headset and mic on me, and I got the grand tour!”
It wasn’t long before Dillon made a safe landing at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital, and Jacob and Jeff chaperoned Mr. Power to the ER. “As soon as we got to the ER,” Mr. Power says, “they called my wife and assured her that everything was fine.” He pauses. “If you ever have a chance to talk to those guys, thank them again for me.”
Quicker and more effective treatment for heart attack patients is a notable benefit of having a round-the-clock air ambulance service based in Bozeman. “We’ve been able to change how these patients are treated,” Jeff shares. The driving factor is the difference between a one-hour trip to the hospital by ground and a 16-minute trip by air. “Now, heart attack patients can get appropriate therapy a lot sooner, so we’re seeing better outcomes.”
REACH has as its mission, “In every situation, do what is right for the patient.” Their transport teams provide the same compassion and urgency in every critical care situation. One of the most critical areas for immediate access to air transport is scene calls, where severe injuries are the result of automobile accidents, hunting mishaps, natural disasters, etc. In some areas of Montana, a critically injured individual in need of specialized care but without the option of air transport may have to travel by ground for up to two hours.
Back in Bozeman, doctors kept Mr. Power overnight; they wanted to make sure he remained stable, which he did. He says, “A doctor came in the next day—after scans and ultrasounds and a constant cardiogram and all the telemetry—and told me that other than having been hit by the altitude, they couldn’t find a thing wrong with me. And I haven’t needed any oxygen since.”
Mr. Power’s swift recovery and continuing good health is the best part of the story, but there was more great news to come. Elizabeth says they weren’t sure how they were going to cover the cost of their air medical transport. At one point she thought, ‘I wish this happened in Louisiana where we have Air Evac Lifeteam membership.’ Air Evac Lifeteam is an AirMedCare Network provider, just like REACH. With more than 2,000,000 members, AirMedCare Network is the nation’s largest air ambulance network. All members are covered for out-of-pockets expenses when flown by REACH or any of 240 participating providers across 32 states. The Powers were very happy to hear the cost of their transport was covered by their membership—and all they have to do now is plan their next vacation.
“I was not aware that we were part of a national network until this occurred,” says Mr. Power. He and Elizabeth definitely see the value of AirMedCare Network membership, and evidently the governing body of Vidalia does, too. “A few months ago,” Mr. Power shares, “the city bought every resident of Vidalia a membership!”
REACH is humbled by and grateful for this evidence of trust and support. We feel fortunate that we could contribute to Mr. Power’s successful outcome.