30 years of ser­vice

Lifenet Air of­fi­cials cel­e­brate first he­li­copter flight with pa­tients, work­ers

Texarkana Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Ash­ley Gard­ner

“With the he­li­copter you have a flight nurse and a flight para­medic, and with that kind of speed and equip­ment it’s like a fly­ing ICU.

— David Baumgardne­r, LifeNet ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor

LifeNet Air landed on the grounds on Northridge Coun­try Club on Tues­day evening to a cel­e­bra­tion. LifeNet em­ploy­ees, pa­tients who’ve been helped by the ser­vice and those in­volved in its cre­ation were on hand to cel­e­brate 30 years of ser­vice. “To­day marks the 30th an­niver­sary of the first he­li­copter flight we made. We flew down to pick up a pa­tient in Naples, Texas, and flew him back to St. Michael,” said David Baumgardne­r, LifeNet ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “We’re mark­ing 30 years of con­tin­u­ous ser­vice to the com­mu­nity.”

LifeNet Air, for­merly known as Air Life, has made a big dif­fer­ence to area pa­tients who’ve re­ceived trau­matic in­juries in an ac­ci­dent or are gravely ill.

“They have ac­cess to care they might not have had,” Baumgardne­r said. “With the he­li­copter you have a flight nurse and a flight para­medic, and with that kind of speed and equip­ment it’s like a fly­ing ICU. You can trans­port the pa­tient quickly and re­li­ably to an­other fa­cil­ity. It re­ally ex­panded the type of care a per­son might get in the area.”

When some­one ex­pe­ri­ences trau­matic in­juries or se­ri­ous ill­ness, re­ceiv­ing timely treat­ment can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death and LifeNet Air cuts travel time sub­stan­tially.

“If you were in­jured in an ac­ci­dent in Naples, it might take an hour-and-a-half com­ing in by ground am­bu­lance but that flight is 20 or 25 min­utes,” Baumgardne­r said.

“It’s 145 miles per hour ver­sus 75 miles per hour and it elim­i­nates the bumps in the road. It makes a big dif­fer­ence.”

Don Rug­gles was one of the driv­ing forces in LifeNet Air’s in­cep­tion. His son Tony Rug­gles lost his life af­ter a tragic hunt­ing ac­ci­dent. “Had we had some­thing like this he would prob­a­bly still be liv­ing. It took 10 hours be­fore he had de­fin­i­tive med­i­cal care,” Rug­gles said.

In­side the he­li­copter is a plaque that reads “... ded­i­cated to the mem­ory of Tony Rug­gles and in honor of his fa­ther Don Rug­gles.”

Rug­gles is proud of the im­pact LifeNet Air has had on the com­mu­nity.

“I don’t know the num­ber we’ve flown but it’s in the thou­sands ... I’d like to say I’m proud for our com­mu­nity in sup­port­ing this he­li­copter pro­gram for the last 30 years. It’s been a com­mu­nity ef­fort and I’m very proud of that.”

CHRISTUS St. Michael also had a huge part in get­ting the pro­gram started. “Don worked so hard to make this pro­gram a re­al­ity. To see where it’s come now is amaz­ing,” said Francine Fran­cis, St. Michael com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor. “The com­mu­nity is still ben­e­fit­ing 30 years later.”

Sev­eral for­mer pa­tients at­tended the event.

Ash­ley Young had a head-on col­li­sion in Genoa in 2011 that left her with a bro­ken body.

“I was ba­si­cally hurt from head to toe ... and I had a trau­matic brain in­jury,” Young said.

LifeNet Air trans­ported her from the scene of the ac­ci­dent to LSU Health in Shreve­port, La.

“Texarkana has two re­ally good hos­pi­tals but you need ... sur­gi­cal ser­vices right then to han­dle her in­juries,” said Michael Baker, the LifeNet crit­i­cal care flight para­medic who took care of Young. “Due to her in­juries she had to go to a Level 1 trauma cen­ter. Her in­juries were on the up­per end of what we see. Peo­ple with in­juries worse than hers, most of them don’t make it.”

Baker said Young wouldn’t have sur­vived if LifeNet Air hadn’t been avail­able and she’d been trans­ported by ground am­bu­lance.

An­other for­mer pa­tient, 7-yearold Cather­ine Joyce, at­tended the event. She was trans­ported by LifeNet Air to Arkansas Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal last year af­ter she was bit by a rat­tlesnake at her fam­ily’s hunt­ing lodge in New Bos­ton, Texas. Close to los­ing con­scious­ness be­fore leav­ing the hos­pi­tal in Texarkana, the or­deal was ter­ri­fy­ing for her fam­ily.

“Her eyes were shut­ting ... It was ex­tremely scary,” said Gene Joyce, Cather­ine’s fa­ther.

An­tivenin was ad­min­is­tered to her on the flight to ACH and by the time her fam­ily ar­rived at the hos­pi­tal in Lit­tle Rock, Cather­ine was sit­ting up in bed.

“It was re­ally pretty mirac­u­lous,” Joyce said.

Air Meth­ods, also in­volved in found­ing the lo­cal air pro­gram, pro­vides LifeNet with pi­lots and main­te­nance staff to run the pro­gram.

“We’ve been with them 30 straight years. We were their sec­ond part­ner and now they’re prob­a­bly the largest (air) med­i­cal provider in the United States,” Baumgardne­r said. “They’ve been a pretty good part­ner through this whole deal. Not many busi­ness part­ner­ships last that long.”

Staff photo By Ce­cil An­der­son

Roy Mor­gan and Don Rug­gles walk from a LifeNet he­li­copter Tues­day af­ter­noon at Northridge Coun­try Club dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tion for LifeNet Air’s 30 years of ser­vice.

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