Air Ambulance Returns To North Bend Airport

COOS BAY — An air ambulance newly stationed at the North Bend airport will save lives by rushing heart patients to crucial treatment.

"When you need it, every second counts," said Dr. Seth Giri, who heads the new cardiac care program at Bay Area Hospital.

Emergency Airlift, a private company providing air ambulance service across Southern Oregon, relocated a Bolkow 105S helicopter to North Bend last week. Susan Schindler, the company's chief flight nurse, said the move was prompted by Bay Area Hospital's addition of a cardiac catheterization laboratory earlier this year.

Schindler said stationing the helicopter in North Bend will slash the travel time of patients coming to the hospital from remote areas such as Gold Beach or Powers.

Speed matters, Giri said, because "time is muscle."

Research has shown a heart attack patient has a much better chance if blocked arteries can be reopened within 90 minutes. Once a heart attack occurs, 500 heart cells die every minute until the blockage is reopened, Giri said.

When a helicopter rushes a patient to Bay Area Hospital's "cath lab," Giri can reopen a blocked artery by inflating a tiny balloon inside. Treatment can begin even before the helicopter lands. The onboard medical personnel can perform an electrocardiogram, forward the results to the hospital, and immediately administer medications ordered by the doctor.

The helicopter carries a flight nurse and a paramedic in addition to the pilot. A crew is always on standby when the helicopter is waiting at the airport. The helicopter carries patients directly to the hospital, which has its own landing pad.

Emergency Airlift was founded in 2003 by Ed Langerfeld, who still owns the North Bend-based company. In addition to helicopter ambulances, the company flies fixed-wing aircraft for long-range flights.

The company previously had stationed a helicopter in North Bend but moved it to Roseburg in 2012. Roseburg-based helicopters remained available for coastal service, but the cath lab's opening in May boosted the importance of basing a helicopter here, Schindler said.

Schindler said anyone suffering a heart attack should call 911, not her company. A helicopter will be dispatched if appropriate.

Giri said he initially was concerned about the cost of helicopter service for his patients. But he was encouraged by Emergency Airlift's $35 annual membership, which covers the uninsured portion of a patient's cost.

"I think that's a great service," he said.

The Bolkow 105S will be one of two air ambulances on display at a Bay Area Hospital open house Saturday. Along with the helicopters, the open house will showcase the cardiac catheterization lab and other new services, including a surgical robot.

The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the first floor lobby at the new main entrance. The public is welcome.

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