Luxembourg, 25 February 2020 - There are distant, magical and unforgettable places on this planet – but when there’s a medical emergency in a remote location, getting the patient safely home can be challenging.
European Air Ambulance was recently involved in just such a mission, when a woman fell ill in Tierra del Fuego – the Land of Fire – an archipelago off the southernmost tip of the Americas in Argentina, and the last stop before Antarctica.
Cruises take passengers from the Atlantic waters off Buenos Aires through these ‘Fjords of the South’ and on to Chile and the Pacific Ocean. For most, the natural beauty is something they will remember forever – but for one passenger from Luxembourg, hers was an unforgettable trip for another reason altogether. The woman was enjoying the cruise with her daughter but after a few days at sea, close to Cape Horn, the famed headland where the two oceans meet and where conditions for sailors are treacherous, she fell suddenly and acutely ill.
The ship’s doctor knew she was too unwell to be treated on board so they sailed into the most southerly city in the world, Ushuaia, where the patient was immediately rushed to hospital and straight into surgery. Her daughter contacted European Air Ambulance, as she was keen to get her mum home to Luxembourg as soon as practically possible – and so the planning began for the 13,000km mission.
The options were either to send one of EAA’s dedicated Learjet 45XR air ambulances to Argentina, or depending on the patient’s recovery, to send a medical expert to accompany her on a commercial flight in a seat, on a stretcher or in a separate cabin as necessary. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has protocols in place on the transport of patients in commercial airliners, and due to the nature of her surgery, it would be ten days before she would be permitted on board. So EAA decided to send Dr Mark Schorr, one of their team of expert doctors and emergency response physicians, to Ushuaia to help plan, organise, synchronise and accompany her on her journey home to Luxembourg.
After two days travelling, he arrived in Tierra del Fuego to assess the patient. It was the fifth day after her operation and she had just moved from the ICU onto a normal ward. Dr Schorr explained: “I visited her directly after landing and then once or twice every day until the minimum ten days had elapsed. “She was improving and recovering well, and nine days after the operation she was discharged from hospital. It was clear to me that she could travel home in an airliner in a business class seat, and wouldn’t need a stretcher or a separate cabin – or indeed the use of one of our Learjets. “The EAA team arranged tickets and hotels, and on day ten we started the transfer.”
The three day mission involved two flights, an overnight stay in Buenos Aires, and a final transfer by EAA’s own ICU ground ambulance from Frankfurt Airport directly to the hospital in Luxembourg. “I was by her side during the whole trip – her own private doctor for company and as a safety measure just in case,” added Dr Schorr. “Using EAA’s state-of-the-art transportable ICU equipment, I monitored her heartbeat, blood pressure and oxygen saturation throughout, and administered all her necessary medication and pain relief. Thanks to these safety measures she arrived in Luxembourg in exactly the same state of health as she left Ushuaia. “From a medical point of view this mission was fairly straightforward, but the location at the other end of the world – and therefore the logistics and planning for the transfer – made it extraordinary!”