PHI Air Medical launches women’s heart health campaign

Brian Katcher

FRONT ROYAL – PHI Air Medical launched a women’s heart health campaign this month to raise awareness for heart disease.

Brian Katcher, air medical base supervisor, said the base receives 30 to 45 calls per month, with several of those being cardiac patients.

“What we’re trying to do across the country is get out into the communities, provide awareness, provide materials, some education because while we love to fly, if we can educate people and do some preventative medicine, we’d rather not have to fly you for a heart attack,” he said.

“We’re glad to be here to do it, but if we can get out there and get materials and have face-to-face conversations, then that allows us to really get education out there and put us in a position where we aren’t just seeing people on that work day. We’d rather have people see us from the ground than look up at us from a stretcher,” he added.

This is the eighth year PHI has focused efforts nationally to educate the community in support of the National Heart Health Awareness for Women campaign.

PHI flies thousands of cardiac patients each year nationwide.

Helicopters are equipped with the latest various advanced life-saving devices, such as intra-aortic balloon pumps.

Katcher also listed facts regarding women’s heart disease, which include:
• One in four women die from heart disease.
• Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women regardless of race or ethnicity.
• Two-thirds of women who have heart attacks never fully recover.
• Women account for more than 60 percent of all stroke deaths.

Changes in diet and lifestyle can help reduce the risk of heart disease and allow women to live longer, healthier lives.

PHI will have a booth set up at the Wellness Festival this Saturday at the Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester. Informational cards will be available to those who stop by, as well as free trinkets, such as pens, bags and heart-shaped compact mirrors.

Other campaigns they participate in include men’s health, stroke awareness and water safety.

PHI has five bases in northern Virginia and around 70 bases located across the country.

The calls they receive include hospital inter-facility calls that take patients from one hospital to another with the resources that patients need. They also receive scene calls from EMS agencies, which “bypasses the emergency room – that saves time going directly into the cardiac catherization suite and decreasing the time to open up those vessels and get oxygen to the heart,” Katcher said.

“Our job is to stabilize the patient, decrease their pain,” he said.

The Front Royal PHI base has 15 staff members – two mechanics, four pilots, four nurses and five paramedics. Three staff members — pilot, flight nurse and flight paramedic. — are on each flight.

While they have flown patients all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Katcher said the longer flights are rare.  They typically range from 15 to 40 minutes, he said, and their coverage area is a 100-mile radius from their Front Royal base.

The pilots work 12-hour shifts, with a maximum of 14 hours with seven days on and seven days off. These are Federal Aviation Administration mandates.

The medical crews work 24-hour shifts, with one 24-hour shift followed by a day off, then another full shift at work followed by five days off.

The nurses and medics are continually being trained through online training and yearly testing.

“We train constantly,” he said.

The paramedics come from a background working with high-volume EMS systems with a minimum of three to five years experience and critical care experience.

Nurses also have a minimum of three to five years experience in a critical care setting as well. Three out of their four nurses began as paramedics.

Staff also have advanced flight certifications and are certified in multiple states as well as nationally, which is a requirement.

If a person is flown by PHI, there is a way to reduce the cost of the flight. PHI offers a membership program, PHI Cares, for $50 per year that covers the entire household.

“Whatever their insurance pays us, we take as payment in full and you never see a bill from us,” he said.

“No one thinks they are ever going to need us,” Katcher said, “And unfortunately, when they do, it could be expensive.”

 Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com