CARTERSVILLE, Ga. — If you get COVID-19 while you’re in a foreign country and need better medical treatment, a crew out of Cartersville is going around the world to save lives by bringing Americans back home.
Precious cargo doesn’t even begin to explain how important these missions are that take off from Georgia.
“So, this is it?” asked Channel 2 anchor Jorge Estevez inside a small jet.
“Yes,” said Larry Goolsby, a flight nurse and assistant director with Phoenix Air Group.
“This is a single-patient plane?” asked Estevez.
“This is inside our Gulf Stream,” said Goolsby.
He showed Channel 2 Action News around one of the company’s planes that has traveled to six continents. Crews loaded the plane with supplies to prepare to bring patients with COVID-19 back to the United States.
A single-patient isolation area is their secret. They call it “the tent.”
“This is the decontamination?” asked Estevez about the area just outside the tent where medical workers put on and take off their protective equipment.
“Yes, that is correct,” answered Goolsby.
Once inside the tent, medical professionals have what they need to treat patients.
“A patient would be placed in this bed,” said Goolsby.
Flight nurses keep patients stable.
“We can do I-stat labs for blood draws. We can do ventilation. Like I said, we have pumps, cardiac monitoring. Every drips or medication they can receive a hospital we offer that same level of care during their transport,” said Goolsby.
There’s more specialized equipment at the Cartersville airport.
“This is the most expensive cargo container you will ever be in,” said Dr. Doug Olsen, Phoenix Air Group’s medical director.
Olsen also goes on these missions and showed Channel 2 Action News the cargo container that can house as many as four sick people at a time.
“So they are strapped in here. They are given oxygen, all sorts of medicine, whatever they need, correct?” asked Estevez.
“Correct. We have all sorts of monitors, vents and so forth, IV pumps,” said Olsen.
As many as four cargo containers fit inside a different, much larger plane, such as a 747.
“What kind of patients do you have in here? Are they near their death?” asked Estevez.
“The answer is that has occurred. Yes, specifically in Ebola times. We did transport where patients were actively resuscitating. We were trying to keep them alive to get to Western medical care,” said Olsen.
The longest flight where people spent time in the container was outside Wuhan, China.
The flight brought 180 Americans home during an approximately 30-hour trip. One patient spent time in one of the beds.
These flights out of Cartersville began in 2003. But they join other missions taking off from around the country.
The U.S. government said, as of June, there have been 1,140 similar flights rescuing people stranded in as many as 136 countries. They brought back more than 101,000 Americans.
With COVID-19, they are taking extra precautions.
“We are allowing a turnover of air inside the cabin before we open the door. We are putting on N95 masks on our patients. We are wearing more protective hood rather than the mask we were before,” said Goolsby.
“And all of that because you are treating COVID like it is airborne?” asked Estevez.
“Yes, just on the chance we want to be covered,” answered Goolsby.
Despite the risk, saving American lives makes it worth it.
“I think a lot of us have volunteered to do this because we are doing the right thing. I am that patriotic person as well. So I feel from a patriotic standpoint, it is the right thing to do,” said Olsen.
They also shared stories of the family members who fly with their sick loved ones, who are just as precious.
“His wife literally met us in the hallway. She heard us speaking to the nurses outside and met us with tears in her eyes and looks at both of us and said, ‘You know, I’ve never been so happy to hear a Southern voice in my life,’” said Goolsby.
Phoenix Air Group is the same company that brought Dr. Kent Brantly and nurse Nancy Writebol back from Liberia to Atlanta after they were infected with Ebola while working as medical missionaries in 2014.
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