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Collaborative night delivering lungs

Ajay was buckled into his seat. His charter plane had just pushed out of the hanger and begun taxiing down the runway when the pilot announced there was a problem. Five minutes later they were grounded and told they couldn’t go anywhere.
BC Ambulance Service fixed wing air ambulance
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​One of the seven air ambulance planes BCEHS has in their dedicated fleet was used to deliver a set of lungs to Vancouver.

Ajay is a surgical recovery specialist for BC Transplant and was travelling that night with his team to recover two kidneys and a pair of lungs from a donor and bring them to Vancouver for transplant. The kidneys were on a pump which gave them 24 hours until they needed to be transplanted. The lungs, however, had a four, maybe five, hour window to get to a surgeon already waiting in a Vancouver operating room with a critically ill patient who desperately needed a new pair of lungs.

It was around midnight and the BC transplant team on site – Kiran Khatar and Brian Franco – were working hard to find alternate arrangements for transport. No other planes were available. That’s when Ajay  phoned his manager, Lee James, and asked her for advice on next steps.  The answer: Reach out to BC Emergency Health Services Patient Transfer Network.  

Ajay said he called saying “Please, see if you have anything available.” In about 10 minutes they were able to tell him they had arranged transport. A few moments later, he looked across the tarmac and saw an ambulance on its way.

The dispatch supervisor at the Patient Transfer Network had a few quick questions, like what exactly needed to be transferred. He was told a small cooler as big as a backpack. With the details from Ajay he was able to track down and get clearance from paramedics in the area who were headed to Vancouver, as well as organize the ambulance crew who would deliver the organs from the airport to the hospital.

Infant Transport Team (ITT) paramedics Kathryn Reid and Jeff Scott were on their last call of the day when they got a call from dispatch about the stranded team from BC Transplant. ITT paramedics are based in the Lower Mainland but provide bedside emergency medical and critical care to any location in the province. Dispatch found them on their third location that shift. They were just leaving a hospital, caring for a baby in an incubator, and headed to the airport to fly to Vancouver.

Reid says they were in exactly the right place at the right time. “I’m so glad we were able to help,” says Reid, who has served seven years as an ITT paramedic. This was the first time she’s helped deliver organs for transplant while also delivering a patient.

Ajay said it was a quick transition and the lungs were delivered onto the plane with the paramedics, and it took off. Ajay said all he asked was that he got a call when the lungs were successfully delivered. “We rely on [BC Emergency Health Services] so much, because your team is always on it.”

Ajay says everything lined up that night. 

The Provincial Executive Director of BC Transplant, Leanne Appleton, put it another way. 

In a thank-you letter to the BCEHS team she thanked everyone for “their incredible efforts in assisting BC Transplant and for going ‘above and beyond’ in order to assist us in saving a patient’s life.”

“Thanks does not seem like enough to the dedicated BCEHS team members. We want to acknowledge everyone from dispatch to the supervisors, the operational and physician leaders who authorized a BCEHS team and plane into action.”  

Appleton says it was so rewarding for her to hear how BC Transplant and BCEHS worked in partnership and in doing so collectively both honoured the gift of life from the donor, and saved a life. 

“If there is one word for this recent night, it would be ‘grateful,’” she adds. 

** Some details have been left out to maintain organ donor and transplant recipient confidentiality.
BC Ambulance Service; BC Transplant; BCEHS; air ambulance; transplant
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