Relatively often, we hear about the achievements of air ambulance crews picking up and transporting patients (though not nearly as much as we should). And it’s understandable: an often very ill or critically injured patient is directly involved (more accurately, “physically present”) in the transport process.
But organ transport flights can be have just as direct and crucial an effect on saving a patient’s life. Remember the story from 2010, about the air ambulance pilot who, together with EMS workers, heroically entered a crashed, flaming jet to cut the fuel line and save a liver which, miraculously, was undamaged?
To be sure, sensitive medical shipments don’t always require an air ambulance team to deliver them — far from it. Medical courier services are often contracted to deliver all types of medical paraphrenalia, from labs, blood banks, pharmacies, and so on. But the reason organs are so often transported by aircraft makes perfect sense.
At any given time in this country, there are tens of thousands of Americans in urgent need of organs from donors. When a match between a patient and an organ donor is made, it’s crucial that the newly donated organ be moved as quickly and safely as possible. If you’re in the medical field (as you most likely are if you’re reading this) you already know that organs can only remain healthy for a very short period of time following their recovery from a donor.
According to organdonor.gov, 75% of organs go to local patients after their recovery. Still, the meaning of “local” in relation to a transport can vary, and if you’ve ever tried transporting something from one end of Austin to the other by ground at 8 in the morning, it’s easy to see why air medical services can easily fill a lifesaving role even in local organ transports.
Air medical services coordinate with medical facilities to expertly transport delicate organs from the donor’s location to the hospital where the transplant will be performed (which can often be far away from the patient’s home).
Just as in the case of transporting a living, breathing patient, the experienced, highly-trained air medical staff as well as the advanced medical equipment found on-board the best air ambulances are absolutely crucial to ensuring that an organ arrives in perfect condition. And that can be equally as lifesaving for a patient in need as picking him up at sea, if a little less visually spectacular.
Check out this 2010 flashback: Air Ambulance Pilot Saves Liver