July 31, 2013

Seattle To Saudi Arabia, Angel MedFlight Takes Patient Home

By Angel MedFlight Contributor

An elderly woman in need of critical care is living in Seattle. In her advanced age her wish is to go home to Saudi Arabia. Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance made it happen.

The 8,556-mile medical flight into a far-off land with vast cultural differences took masterful planning by our flight coordinating and logistics teams and was executed with precision by our aviation department, pilots and medical flight crew.

Critical care flight nurse Lois Turner was a part of the crew that made this long journey to the Middle East and shared some of her experiences from the trip which needed some extra preparation efforts.

In Saudi Arabia, the customary attire for women is head-to-toe coverage in a mostly-black robe called an abaya. Angel MedFlight flight nurses and paramedics typically wear the familiar red and black flight suits while on duty. This being Angel MedFlight's first trip to this Arab state with a female medical crew member, our support staff had to act fast to  comply with the dress requirements. 

Director of Clinical Services Kevin Anderson and Clinical Educator Michelle Lohof snapped into action and found a local store that carried the necessary attire.  The two then raced to the airport and handed off the clothing to Turner before the Learjet 60 departed for Seattle.

Once in Seattle, Turner and Critical Care Flight Paramedic Cris Lecher met the patient and family at their home. The woman's two sons would accompany the patient to Saudi Arabia.

This being an extra long medical flight, the Learjet had to make a number of fuel stops along the way. The first leg took N160AJ to Goose Bay in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. From there it was to Keflavik in Iceland for more Jet-A and then the flight to England, where the family requested a layover in London.

Turner says the patient was, "quite a lovely lady, tiny in stature, but she seemed very excited about going back home. I think that her ultimate goal was to make it back to Saudi." The woman would soon be there.

From the layover in London, N160AJ was again airborne and on the way to Dammam Airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after a brief fuel stop in Athens, Greece. 

Our critical care flight crew was attentive to the patient's needs throughout the long flight, taking extra care to make sure the woman was comfortable and re-positioned on the air ambulance.  Turner says one of the woman's sons had to act as a translator because while the patient seemed to understand  some English, she had difficulty communicating back. Although Turner and the woman could not speak the same language, she says the two were able to create a unique bond between them. "She always had a big smile on her face and told her sons, 'I just like her, she's good to me' and those kinds of things."

Arriving in Saudi Arabia was culture shock for Turner, who says when it was time to leave the aircraft, "it was as if I didn't exist...because I was female." Although she may have felt invisible amongst many of the locals, Turner and the rest of Angel MedFlight's flight crew will always be remembered by the elderly patient who was able to go home to her native land.

Turner takes away many positive memories from the trip "I always learn from every flight that I take, " says Turner. "I have opportunities to meet people from every walk of life, every ethnicity, every culture because they have something that they give to everyone.  It's that feeling that you get when you're with them. We may be taking patients home to hospice or to a higher level of care. But I always feel fortunate. They are the ones giving to me"

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