International Air Ambulance Flight from the Ukraine to Boston: The First Call
It was the day before Super Bowl Sunday when MedFlight911 Air Ambulance received the call. A pediatric intensivist at the children’s hospital in Boston was on the line, and he wanted to know if we could arrange an air medical transport of three young burn victims from Lviv, Ukraine to the United States. The children – all siblings, ages 2, 11 and 13 – were the only survivors of a devastating fire that had already claimed the lives of their parents, grandparents, and other siblings. The patients' condition wasn’t completely clear, but the doctor in Boston knew that they needed to be moved as soon as possible to a facility that was prepared to treat severe burn injuries.
Of course, we said we'd do everything we could to help. Unfortunately, when you're dealing with international air ambulance transports, nothing is ever exactly straightforward. In this case, we were talking with the doctor in Boston, who was communicating with the doctors in Lviv. At some point the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. got involved, as did U.S. officials in the Ukraine.
To say it was a complicated situation would be an understatement. The doctor in Boston was concerned that he was not getting clear, accurate information about the patient’s condition. And the transport (like all international air ambulance transports), was going to be expensive. As the people of Lviv were coming together to find funds to pay for the flight, we were trying to figure out the best way to get three children from Eastern Europe to the U.S. – a logistically complicated feat. There are only a handful of planes in the world that can transport all three patients at once, so we were going to have to move the children separately.
Of course, we – along with everyone else involved – wanted to get to the Ukraine as soon as possible. But we also had to address the logistical issues, to ensure that we put in place a plan that would get the kids to the U.S. as soon as possible and keep them safe in transit, all while obeying international flight pilot duty rest requirements. Our focus was on doing all this as efficiently as we could while still making sure we were going to be operate a safe flight and get the children the care they needed while in transit.
The patients' condition and their ages presented another challenge. The two-year-old needed a specially-trained pediatric medical crew. And the conditions on the ground were another major challenge: the freezing weather made it extremely dangerous to move burn patients, and the Lear jets we'd be flying could only remain on the ground in Lviv for a limited time because of the cold (there was no hanger space available at the Lviv airport). All those factors made coordinating the flight plan especially complicated.
Bearing all of those complicating factors in mind – funding, diplomatic involvement, pilot duty rest requirements, freezing weather (an issue for the airplanes and for the patients), specialist medical crew requirements, and 4,300 miles between us and them – we relied heavily on our decades of experience, strong industry relationships, ingenuity, and lots of hard work to make this air medical transport happen.
We were deeply saddened when we learned that two of the three children, the 2-year-old boy and the 13-year-old girl, passed away before we arrived in Lviv. We were all devastated when we heard the news. But at the same time, we were that much more determined to ensure that the one surviving sibling – the 11-year-old boy – got to the U.S. safely.
Stay tuned for our next post to find out how we were able to successfully transport the boy from the Ukraine to Boston, and how he’s doing now.