01 October 2009

"There is no patient more deserving, more humble, or more heroic"

Maj. Missy Steckler provides care to a patient during a flight to a location that can provide a higher level of medical care. Major Steckler is a flight nurse assigned to the 451st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)

Another great story from AF.mil about Critical Care Air transport Teams - this time about the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing at Kandahar Airfield.

Throughout the world, CCATTs, like the one in Kandahar, are saving lives daily as part of Air Mobility Command's aeromedical evacuation mission, said Lt. Col. Don Tweedel, director of the Air Force CCATT program at the AMC Surgeon General Office at Scott AFB. The CCATT's mission is to "operate an intensive care unit in an aircraft during flight, helping enable America to follow through on its promise to the critically wounded warrior."

At a moment's notice, they need to be ready to mobilize and help save a service member's life, he said.

CCATT members, who wear body armor and carry weapons while on missions, work under circumstances such as helping the Marine every day. The teams are made up of three members: a critical care physician, a nurse and a respiratory therapist. They can care for up to three critically injured, monitored patients, or up to six less severely injured patients, for 72 hours.

A CCATT is a flying critical care unit responsible for caring for the most severely injured and ill patients while flying them from lower levels of medical care to higher levels of care, said Major Zagol. This includes flying patients from small forward operating base hospitals to larger medical facilities in theater, flying patients out of theater to Landstuhl, or flying patients from Landstuhl to the United States.

Once they arrive at the hospital where the patient is located, they'll receive medical updates and information directly from the hospital's critical care staff and then will prepare the patient for flight, said Maj. Colleen Treacy, a critical care nurse also with the 451st EAEF.

Preparation includes removing the patient from the hospital equipment and placing him or her on equipment approved for flight to include a ventilator, cardiac monitor, IV pump, suction machine, vacuum spinal board and intracranial, or brain, pressure monitor. The diagnosis of the patient determines which pieces of equipment are necessary, said Major Treacy.

"This process can be time consuming, so CCATTs must work with a sense of urgency, in cohort with the hospital, in order to get the patients to the aircraft in as short a period of time as possible," Major Treacy said.

Senior Airman Libby See cares for a patient during an aeromedical evacuation mission to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Airman Libby is an aeromedical technician with the 451st Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)

Though the CCATT mission involves long hours, as teams are sometimes sent immediately back to pick up another patient after finishing a mission, and involves lots of hard work, CCATT members agree that the hard work is worth it.

"It is an honor to take care of these wounded military members. There is no patient more deserving, more humble, or more heroic than our wounded men and women in the military," said Major Zagol. "No matter what medical interventions we might do on the plane, just telling these severely wounded individuals that we are going to get them home seems to have the greatest impact."

See a video of Critical Care Air Transport.

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