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Flying ICU reduces fatalities through swift air transport

Critical Care Air Transport Team nurse Maj. Rodney Logan, 60th Medical Operations Squadron, sheds a little light for Tech. Sgt. William Webster, a cardiopulmonary CCATT member, as he administers to a Hurricane Katrina evacuee during an aeromedical evacuation mission aboard a C-130 Hercules in September 2005. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dr. [Maj.] Lazaro Bravo)

Critical Care Air Transport Team nurse Maj. Rodney Logan, 60th Medical Operations Squadron, sheds a little light for Tech. Sgt. William Webster, a cardiopulmonary CCATT member, as he administers to a Hurricane Katrina evacuee during an aeromedical evacuation mission aboard a C-130 Hercules in September 2005. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dr. [Maj.] Lazaro Bravo)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Recently, two members of ABC World News Tonight were seriously injured by an improvised explosive device near the town of Taji, Iraq. 

Anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Don Vogt both suffered critical head trauma injuries. 

They were transported from the battlefield to more sophisticated medical care in Landstuhl, Germany, before being returned to the United States aboard a military medical transport plane. 

Woodruff and Vogt were accompanied and treated on the flight by a Critical Care Air Transport Team – essentially a flying intensive care unit. 

CCATT has been directly responsible for dramatically reducing military and civilian fatalities through swift air transport and advance life-saving medical skills. 

The CCATT program at David Grant USAF Medical Center was established in August 1998 after a pilot program was formally approved and adopted by the Air Force Aeromedical Evacuation System. 

Since then, CCATT has been established throughout the Air Force.
Today, DGMC has approximately seven CCAT teams and the second-largest CCATT platform in the Air Force for mobility purposes. 

They have been involved in medical rescue and transport of multiple combat/blast injured patients during Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Noble Eagle and the World Trade Center attack in September 2001. 

“We can do almost anything a typical ICU or emergency department can do,” explained Dr. [Maj.] John Rabine, 60th Medical Operations Squadron CCATT medical director. “We can insert a chest tube, establish and secure artificial airways, provide mechanical ventilation and support patients with life-threatening injuries or illnesses at 40,000 feet.” 

A typical CCATT is composed of three individuals: a physician, normally designated as the team leader who has a background in critical care specialties such as cardiology, pulmonology, emergency medicine, internal medicine or general surgery; a critical care nurse; and a cardiopulmonary technologist/respiratory therapist. Everyone on the team plays a vital role in patient care. CCATT members at DGMC operate 24 hours a day seven days a week anytime, anywhere to save lives. 

“Our CCATT was on standby status when we received notification for a mission. Three hours later, we had Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch under our care, after she was rescued by members of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment,” said Master Sgt. Curtis Maley, a CCATT member and 60th MDOS cardiopulmonary services manager. 

“We move patients very quickly because time is very critical. In the case of Private Lynch, it took us 10 hours to get to Landstuhl, Germany,” Sergeant Maley explained. “However, the most challenging mission for our team was attending to three burn victims from a rocket propelled grenade attack. We evacuated them out of Talil, Iraq, by flying in an all blacked out condition with engine-running on-load and airspace limitations.” 

CCATT members are quick to point out the professional care, stabilization and surgical intervention their patients receive before they are transported. 

“We have a lot of talented people in the 60th Medical Group, many of whom just returned from being deployed downrange to care for these troops,” said Major Rabine. “They deserve a lot of credit too. Our job in the air is made a lot easier when the patients are cared for and stabilized on the ground."

The CCATTs have not only helped transport wounded U.S. Soldiers and Airmen, they’re also involved in humanitarian missions. 

“On my last deployment, we transported an 8-year-old boy with multiple injuries from a land mine all the way to a children’s hospital here in the Bay Area from Landstuhl in 26 hours,” said Tech. Sgt. William Webster, cardiopulmonary CCATT member and NCOIC of the 60th MDOS pulmonary functions laboratory. “Of course, who could forget Hurricane Katrina? Our CCATT was also there.” 

As the CCATT program continues to grow at DGMC, its life-saving mission will continue to evolve. CCATT has revolutionized aeromedical evacuation of critically injured or sick patients by utilizing the best medical equipment, transport aircraft and highly trained medical professionals.