MACON, Ga. — A person's chances of surviving a traumatic medical event improve drastically if they're air evacuated by helicopter to a trauma center.
The Medical Center, Navicent Health depends on flights from the Air Evac Lifeteam to provide care to victims as quickly as possible. If you hear chopper sounds over downtown Macon, it's likely someone's life is in jeopardy over at Navicent Health.
"Now, the patients land on the roof. They come down the elevator into the emergency room so we have very rapid transport into the ER," said Dennis Ashley, Director of Trauma Surgery at Navicent.
It's the only level 1 trauma center between Atlanta and Jacksonville, Florida. The only others are closer to the coast in Savannah and Augusta.
"Out of the 159 counties in Georgia, we'll get trauma transfers from at least 75 counties," Ashley said.
That's a lot of ground to cover and Ashley said every minute counts. Navicent depends on the helicopters of the Air Evac Lifeteam to fly trauma victims from all over the state into Macon. They work closely with the 140 team out of Milledgeville.
"Speed is so important in trauma patients, stroke patients, cardiac patients," said flight nurse, Britta Thomason.
Thomason says helicopter teams provide higher quality, and faster care than ground ambulances because of the advanced procedures they can provide. They can get victims to a trauma center within 60 minutes, what emergency personnel call "the golden hour," between when a traumatic event happens and when a victim sees a doctor.
The Milledgeville team said they can get from their base to Navicent Health in about 17 minutes on average, the fastest they've ever flown the route is in 15 minutes.
"I know a few patients where that made all the difference," Thomason said.
Thomason was an ER nurse at Navicent Health for six years before she began flying. She said flight nurses must have at least three years of experience in a level one trauma center or a high call volume area before they can get in the air.
Thomason said the emergency room and flight experience is similar, the only difference being the amount of space they have to work with.
"Essentially, everything we have in this helicopter right here is what we have in an ER. We have all the tools that we could need," Thomason said. "We have all the medications that we could need and the patient's just a little closer to you."
Ashley said they typically have to make at least one flight per day and that number ramps up during high traffic times of the year like the summer or the holidays.
Air Evac Lifeteam increased their choppers in the last 10 years. They had two in 2009 and now have 12 across Georgia.