12 July 2008

Wound vacs being tested on medevac flights

Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Raymond Fang sits in a C-17 loaded with war wounded as it prepares to depart Ramstein Air Base, Germany, for Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on June 29. Fang, a trauma surgeon at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, is conducting a study on the feasibility of using the V.A.C. Freedom, a portable wound vacuum system, on medical evacuation flights between Germany and the U.S. Photo: Steve Mraz / S&S

Wound vacs are a common sight in hospitals, but their use on long medevac flights could have big potential. Not only can they reduce the risk of infection and reduce healing time, but patients could also be spared the painful removal of gauze dressings upon arrival at Walter Reed or Bethesda from Landstuhl.

The way a wound vac works is that a special sponge is cut to the right size, placed in the wound, and then fitted with a plastic cover. A tube is attached to the cover which suctions fluid from the wound, keeping it clean.

Because portable wound vacs have not yet been approved for use on the medevac planes, in-flight medical personnel had sometimes been rigging up their own solutions using tubing and suction machines.

Now our own Dr. Fang of Landstuhl hospital is conducting a study on patients flying from Germany to the US in the hopes of getting the portable system approved. The Air Force is leading the way on the effort by funding the study and supplying the V.A.C. Freedom portable wound vacs.

Air Force Maj. Bonnie Bosler, a flight nurse with the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, tends to the leg wound of a Marine who was shot in Afghanistan. The wound is being treated with the V.A.C. Freedom, a portable wound vacuum system, as part of an ongoing Air Force study to determine the feasibility of using the devices on medevac flights between Germany and the States. Photo: Steve Mraz / S&S

In this photo you can see the plastic cover over the sponge with the attached wound vac tube on the inner side of this patient's leg. The thing that looks like an erector set is an external fixator which is used to hold broken bones in place instead of a cast. (Yes, I'm afraid they are rods inserted completely through the skin and bone of the limb. But putting a closed cast over an open wound is not feasible due to the danger of infection and because the wound needs to be treated.)

Another typical sight is the writing on the bandage of the patient's lower leg. In addition to all the medical records which accompany patients during the medevac process, this is a fast way for a physician further uprange to read a "note" from the patient's previous doctor.

Fascinating article by Steve Mraz of Stars and Stripes.

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