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We arrived at our remote cattle ranch on the evening of December 23 and unloaded our holiday groceries and gifts, so we’d be set the next day to begin preparing for Christmas. Well, Christmas Eve morning rolled around and my wife was in a world of pain; the kind of pain you wish you could just help someone escape from — there was no where she could turn or move or twist or curl that the pain wasn’t there, and it was bad and it just kept getting worse. We contacted her primary care doctor by telephone, a wonderful concierge M.D. who answered the phone immediately and we relayed to him my wife’s symptoms and he quickly decided that an air evacuation was the right course to take. Being in a very remote location with over 30 miles of bumpy dirt road to traverse to our nearest pavement, and over 160 miles by road to our nearest appropriate hospital, it was not prudent or humane to evacuate her by vehicle, or road ambulance. The possibility of an emergent medical condition, as determined by two MD’s, was very high, so we did not have the time to get her to medical care by surface transport.
At that point we activated our ACR personal locator beacon, and very soon after received a phone call from the US Air Force. They called to verify the activation was not a false alarm, that it was due to an emergency requiring an air evacuation, which I confirmed. Upon confirmation, they explained they would proceed to hand off the call to the appropriate responsible local authorities, which in this case was the NM State Police. As USAF proceeded with the handoff, they stayed on the line. USAF said NMSP were having difficulties with their tracking equip and thus were unable to utilize the signal being broadcast by the ACR PLB to locate us. Given this hold up in the response, I decided to contact more local authorities to see if the response could be quickened.
I contacted by phone our local sheriff from Cochise County, AZ who then directed me to the local fire station of the city of Douglas, the town nearest to our ranch. Douglas Fire insisted on sending us ground ambulance out before deploying the medieval chopper to verify whether this medical emergency necessitated an airborne medical evacuation. I later found out that once Douglas Fire got involved, NM State Police relinquished the lead on the response. At that point Douglas Fire deployed their ground ambulance which we knew would take over an hour to reach us and as that was not acceptable given the levels of pain my wife was experiencing and the possible emergent condition, I reached out to a friend who is the emergency room M.D. in our local hospital in Bisbee Arizona. I gave the doctor my wife’s history and he also concluded as did the previous MD that my wife needed to be evacuated by air. He then called the air evacuation chopper run by Lifeline Arizona and got them deployed to our location.
With assistance from Douglas Fire and Police, Lifeline Arizona was informed of our coordinates and reached our site, as it turns out a little bit after the Douglas Fire ambulance made it. Douglas Fire’s ambulance team evaluated my wife’s condition and as they did the Lifeline team arrived and assisted in preparation for air transport, got her on a gurney, into the Douglas Fire ambulance and transported her to the nearby landing site where she was then loaded up into the chopper and delivered to a hospital in Tucson Arizona 45 minutes later. She underwent surgery on Christmas Day. It was a team effort! But, I was concerned about the failure in the Air Force hand off to the NM State authorities. I’m grateful to our local resources for their response, and hope that the weak links in the NARSAT system get resolved. Our remote location necessitates solid protocols to lean on and we typically build in redundancies in case one leg fails. In this instance we were not dealing with a life threatening trauma (though we could not field diagnose that), but if we had been I do not believe the response would have arrived in time to save a life. I will still carry a PLB when in the field, and will stock several at the ranch house as well.
Thank you ACR!
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