It was Tuesday night February 12th, 2013 around 9:00 pm when the phone rang. A woman representing one of Trinity’s partner charitable organizations was calling with a special request to see if we could help. Her request had nothing to do with her children’s foundation. She was trying to help a friend. Her friend was stuck in a foreign country, with a very sick brother, and struggling to find a way to get him back to the United States.
The following morning we made contact with the family directly and learned the pertinent details. The patient was a male in his late 40s, US citizen, employed as a teacher in Switzerland for the last few years. Recently he was diagnosed with and began battling the fight with sarcoma cancer. Unfortunately cancer was progressing and was time at last to bring him home. The patient’s sister and parents had flown out to be with him. Their goal was straightforward: Bring him home now.
The family worked tirelessly to find a medical transport back to the United States. They contacted multiple transportation companies including the hospital where he had been treated recently with estimates ranging over $200,000 for an air ambulance. Unable to afford the quotes, the entire family faced the inevitable conclusion that it just wasn’t going to be possible.
Trinity Air Medicals team immediately began the process of medical evaluation, repatriation and medical escort logistics. Due to the time difference between Arizona and Switzerland, countless phone calls and email communications were made around the clock with all of the concerned family members, friends and patient himself.
Our medical review process begins with a thorough examination of the patients’ medical records. This is led by our in-house Nursing Director using a document we pioneered as a standard clinical tool that helps the clinician determine which level of air medical service is most appropriate for the patient: Critical Care Air Ambulance or Commercial Medical Escort. Patient records were received electronically, but written completely in French. Normally this would not be a logistical concern except time and cancer were working against us. It would take too long to wait for a written translation. Trinity’s Medical Director was informed of the situation and contacted the Primary Care Physician in Switzerland personally. Through a translator our Physician was able to communicate, learning all patient history, treatments, labs, and reports to personally oversee this medical criteria determination.
The patient suffered no mental deficits but was determined to be very sick, taking multiple medications as well as being wheel chair and oxygen dependent. Trinity’s Nursing Director and Medical Director utilized our own clinical document and determined that he was indeed a candidate for Commercial Medical Escort. There were to be more logistics but this was welcome good news for a family that needed some.
The family requested that Trinity Air Medical expedite our transport. We were simultaneously beginning the logistics of medical equipment selection, ground and air travel arrangements, and selection of a flight clinician from staff. We acted swiftly. In order to keep the cost to the family at a minimum we were diligent in our efforts with the airline and all associated cost centers involved with Trinity’s international medical escort services. The management and logistics teams proceeded without the upfront costs normally associated, as it seemed unnatural to wait for a deposit. This family’s situation had captured our attention and we wanted to show and perform at our best.
If you recall, our original phone call arrived on a Tuesday night. Wednesday morning initial contact was made with the family. Thursday all logistics were completed. Friday our clinician was on a plane! Saturday afternoon in a hotel in Geneva, Switzerland our flight paramedic made one-on-one bedside contact and began our process of moving a patient.
Trinity’s flight paramedic spent a couple hours with the patient and family that evening. A complete head to toe assessment was performed. The family had a lot of questions and logistical concerns for travel the following day. The clinician took the time to carefully answer their questions in detail as well as affirm the patients competency for commercial air travel. To assist the patients somewhat labored breathing, the portable oxygen concentrator was set up for use in his hotel room and instructions provided, as it was to remain with them overnight. After everyone was comfortable with the travel plans, the flight paramedic made one last comforting statement, “I would like all of you to enjoy your day of travel tomorrow and please do not stress. Tomorrow, I have him. He is mine. If you want to watch a movie, read or sleep on the plane, please do. If anything comes up, Ill notify you. Otherwise, I have him from start to finish, bedside to bedside. I will take care of him.”
Sunday morning came early with everyone dressed, packed and ready to go. The patient looked great! We loaded his parents, his sister and luggage and medical equipment into the transport van and began the journey. Arrangements at Geneva International Airport had already been planned with wheelchair service, a special security screening, and early boarding. The patient and clinician flew first class together as this allows room for equipment, close proximity to the lavatories, multi-positional seating, and provision of any special diet needs. Trinity Air Medical notifies airlines at the time of booking of any special needs and our FAA approved equipment list is provided in advance.
During the flight our patient was provided many services. These included maintaining his oxygen therapy, medications as prescribed, eat and drink as he desired and the ability to get up and stretch his legs. The family was able to relax as well and check in on him from time to time. The entire flight crew was very caring and accommodating as has been our experience. Our flight paramedic reported feeling a sense of pride when at one point the patient and entire family were sleeping comfortably.
Upon arrival in the United States our clinician, patient, and family were once again personally escorted off the plane and walked through customs. Again this was separate from the hundreds of other passengers waiting in line. This personalized customer service meant a lot to a dying patient and a grieving family. After collecting the luggage at the baggage claim, the family was reunited with many friends and family waiting at the airport. Trinity’s clinician waited for everyone to say hello and give a hug to a man that was now a part of Trinity’s family as well.
With the patient assisted into an SUV they headed to his old stomping grounds and familiar home. More family and friends awaited them there. The patient decided he wanted to make the walk from the SUV to the family room inside. Our paramedic unhooked the portable oxygen and walked with him all the way inside to his chosen spot. Perhaps it was an effort to show the many in attendance that there’s still fight in this man who returned home. Our flight paramedic again answered any questions and made sure all were comfortable before leaving. Clinician and patient alike exchanged heartfelt goodbyes and well wishes before parting ways.
Today as we reflect and tell our story we are saddened to say our friend who needed help to get home is no longer with us. The one silver lining is we provided a solution to help this man, his family, and friends say goodbye one more time in the place he was most comfortable. Face to face. With that, we smile while holding back tears.
Our mission here is simple: We believe in a better way of helping those traveling with medical needs.