January 20, 2011

Medical professionals say that getting a critically injured person proper care within an hour – called “the golden hour” – is often the difference between life and death for accident victims with severe injuries.

Unfortunately, until last month, the golden hour was not a realistic timeframe for injured people in upstate South Carolina to access specialized critical medical care; instead, getting access to treatment would require either a drive of several hours to a larger city or a long wait for an ambulance aircraft dispatched from neighboring states.

Now, the notion of quickly getting to a treatment facility is a reality, thanks to a Beech King Air C90 turboprop airplane added to Greenville’s Downtown Airport (GMU) by EagleMed, LLC on December 16. The addition has improved life-saving transfers from the upstate to critical care facilities in larger cities.

For example, previously, a ground transfer for a burn victim from Greenville meant a two and one-half hour drive on two-lane U.S. 25 to the regional burn center in Augusta, GA. Stroke, cardiovascular or neonatal patients had a three and one-half ride to Charleston. The new EagleMed King Air cuts those trips to minutes.

“We’re an intensive care unit [ICU] that goes well over 200 miles per hour,” said EagleMed Greenville program manager David Ellis. “In medical emergencies, our speed is crucial for saving lives. And that’s what our airplanes and pilots do, save lives.”

The Greenville EagleMed King Air is outfitted with advanced medical and emergency equipment, including high-tech heart monitors that can produce not only standard heart tracings, but perform 12-lead diagnostics. There are biphasic defibrillation units, electronic pulse oximeter, an end-tidal carbon dioxide monitor, the latest ventilators, three-channel infusion pumps and a sturdy patient-loading system. The installed life-saving equipment puts many ground ambulances to shame.

The GA airplane is EagleMed LLC’s first fixed-wing airplane in the southeastern U.S., although the company operates more than 20 other GA aircraft in the Midwest and employs about 300 people. All of the company’s helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are dedicated to emergency medical transport.

Ellis said the GMU-based King Air also supplements other company’s medical helicopters throughout the U.S. southeast, since fixed-wing GA aircraft can fly missions when helicopters cannot due to adverse weather, distance to the victim, high winds or other reasons. He recalled a grinding auto accident recently in rural North Carolina, caused in part by atrocious weather. EagleMed’s King Air was called and reached the rural location in 20 minutes and had the victim to a specialized medical facility in Augusta, Georgia within that “golden hour.”

Even though EagleMed LLC is a private business, common sense rules its medical transport flights. “EagleMed reacts to an emergency like an ambulance does, so we take care of the patient first and figure out the payment for our services later,” he said. “The patient’s health comes first, even if we never get paid.”

The ability of business airplanes to respond to people and towns in crisis has long been a central theme of the “No Plane No Gain” advocacy campaign, which highlights the value of business aviation to citizens, companies and communities across the U.S. NBAA jointly sponsors the campaign with the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Learn more by visiting the No Plane No Gain web site.