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455th EAES creates mobile ICU for in-flight care

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing
An intensive care unit is usually a sterile environment – white hospital walls, pristine floors, bright fluorescent lights, dozens of medical professionals.

The intensive care unit that the 455th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron operates out of the back of a C-130J Hercules is a different scene entirely.

It’s dark and cramped. The only light is from headlamps and glowing green bulbs in the cargo bay. Three medical professionals are doing the work of 12 – caring for a critically-injured patient at his most vulnerable.

Their job is to get a patient from forward operating bases throughout Afghanistan to a higher level of care. This usually means bringing them to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield for further stabilization and then on to hospitals in Qatar, Germany and the U.S. depending on the severity of the patients’ injuries or illness.

Members of the AE squadron, along with their Critical Care Air Transport Teams, are on constant alert to quickly evacuate injured or ill patients. They travel with everything they may need to treat the patient while in the air. The complex and critical nature of injuries sustained in a combat zone requires each member to be experienced in treating multiple forms of trauma, providing continuous stabilization, advanced care, and life-saving invasive interventions.

All of this must be done while flying in a deafeningly loud aircraft, which often makes non-standard or evasive maneuvers while flying over a war zone.

“We develop a very strong bond as a team,” said Senior Airman Joshua O’Sullivan, a CCATT respiratory therapist. CCATTs are comprised of a physician, nurse and respiratory therapist and treat the most serious of patients. “Because of the environment, we have to be able to trust one another to each do our part.”

The first mission they went on as a team when they arrived in country was to pick up a seriously injured U.S. service member from the point-of-injury, caring for him on his trip to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital and then onto Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

According to O’Sullivan, the challenging nature of the service member’s injuries and their ability to handle those challenges as a team strengthened their trust in one another that has only grown with each mission.

Their patients are U.S. and coalition service members, civilian employees and contractors. Many of their battle-wounded are Afghan National Army soldiers.

“They are, in many cases, fighting alongside us or on their own. They are fighting for a way of life,” said Dr. (Capt.) Alex Bedard, CCATT physician. “It is as an honor to care for them.”