Keesler deploys critical care

  • Published
  • By Steve Pivnick
  • 81st Training Medical Group
One of Keesler Medical Center's three Critical Care Air Transport Teams is regularly deployed to Afghanistan to provide in-flight critical care to wounded military being transported to medical treatment facilities, offering higher levels of care outside the combat theater.

The three-person team, comprised of a physician, intensive care nurse and a respiratory therapist, also carry the same skills honed in support of combat operations to the U.S. or other nations if there is a need, such as a natural disaster. For example, in the aftermath of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake, Keesler CCATTs were among the first medics on the scene and participated in the mass evacuation that saved hundreds of civilian's lives.

Maj. (Dr.) Shawn French, a pulmonary/critical care physician with the 81st Medical Operations Squadron, recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan and assumed leadership of Keesler's CCATT program. He recognized that there is no middle ground in readiness and set out to execute recurring training to continuously drill not only his teams but other medics who are in mobility positions.

His team set up a vigorous training program to ensure continuous readiness for the teams to be able to engage in the airlift of critically-ill patients to medical facilities offering needed care.

According to Capt. (Dr.) Noah Gudel, an 81st MDOS physician assisting French in ramping up the CCATT program, they now have two full allowances of equipment that allows them to accommodate up to six ventilated or 12 seriously ill or injured patients on an aeromedical mission. She said training with Keesler Medical Center's critical care teams will benefit her patients and their mission when she is reassigned to Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Air Force Base, Fla., as an operational flight surgeon in the fall.

Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Kory Cornum, Keesler Medical Center commander, appreciates the leadership from Team Keesler's Total Force line and medical partners.
"The work that our CCATT teams are doing with the (Air Force Reserve Command) 403rd Wing is cutting edge and is a cost conscious and efficient use of our respective resources. Everybody learns how to better take care of our patients and our mission and we have fun doing it!"

To date, Drs. French and Gudel have conducted two training sessions for interested medics, with others planned. French walked the trainees through basic steps such as patient transport to and from the ambulance, through patient loading on the plane. Among the trainees participating were several Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences students currently training at the medical center who are applying for further training at KMC. Cornum, a 1986 USUHS graduate, has taken a personal interest in mentoring the USUHS students.

The most recent and technical session was conducted May 9. During this event, approximately 20 medical and dental staff prepared and transported a patient simulation mannequin from Keesler Medical Center's Medical Simulation Lab to a 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron C-130J Hercules.

Dr. Gudel noted the "patient" was placed in a device that carried all the mechanical equipment they could possibly need during the transport.

She explained, "Generally, the patient is carried on a NATO litter (wheeled stretcher), with a special medical emergency evacuation device that attaches over the lower half of the stretcher. When it is fully loaded with equipment (ventilator, suction pumps, monitor, IV pumpts, etc), the SMEED portion of the litter alone can weigh up to 75 pounds.

"They were taught how patients are placed on the aircraft, with the sickest on the lowest-level berth in the back of the plane - so they are last-on and first-off - as well as being easily accessible for emergencies, such as a dislodged airway, pneumothorax or CPR. Extra equipment needed for those emergencies would be placed immediately below the sickest patient on the flight," Gudel said.

"One of the positive outcomes of this ongoing project is a continuous test of the medical, logistics, pharmacy and transportation functions to ensure that when the need arises, we can accomplish the mission. And since we have a ready pool of learners, with our residency and medical student programs, why not include learners at all levels? This is a great introduction into operational medicine, which is a side of the Air Force many of us won't see until we deploy for the first time."