Categories: Health & Wellness

STARS Air Ambulance last lifeline for many

STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society) is a non-profit air ambulance organization, which provides emergency care and transport for critically ill and injured patients. Since 1985 the organization has carried out more than 36,000 missions.

Thirty-two years after John Bly, Edmonton STARS paramedic, pulled a four-year-old girl from a car crash that left other occupants dead, he opened his email to find a message from her thanking him for saving her life.

“It felt very very good,” he said. “It’s nice to hear from people after.”

Being a STARS paramedic is a tough job, Bly said it’s these moments that make it worth it. That, along with saving lives each day.

“In this business, typically you see them and then you never know what happened after the circumstance,” he said.

STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society) is a non-profit air ambulance organization, which provides emergency care and transport for critically ill and injured patients. Since 1985 the organization has carried out more than 36,000 missions.

Bly said many former patients come through the Edmonton STARS base to thank medical teams for giving them the emergency medical care they needed.

Some make an annual trip out of if.

“We get people who come by the base here for a visit and it might be five years later,” he said. “And then we’ve got a few people who come on the anniversary of their incident every year. That’s the date of their rebirth, I guess.”

Bly has been a paramedic with STARS for more than 30 years and has completed around 1,450 missions to date.

“You deal with different people each and every day,” he said. “Each and every day is a different situation and you like to think that you can make a difference on somebody’s outcome.”

According to Fatima Khawaja, spokesperson for STARS Air Ambulance, each helicopter mission costs around $5,400. Throughout the fiscal year 2016-2017, the air ambulance has come to St. Albert four times and Morinville once.

Taking flight

STARS Air Ambulance makes on average five missions a day, with around 1,529 flights taking place last year. Khawaja said the cost of one flight includes the medical and aviation crew, medical supplies, helicopter fuel and training.

A specific protocol is followed before a STARS Air Ambulance is deployed. First 9-1-1 is called. The dispatcher will determine if the emergency warrants a ground ambulance or an air ambulance.

If the location is too remote, or it would take more time to drive to an emergency department, the dispatcher will forward the call to STARS.

“The good thing about the helicopter is it can bypass roads and typically land as close as possible to the patient,” she said. “So we’re able to load up the patient and take them to the tertiary care centre to get them to the operating room.”

From here a pilot is given the task of determining whether it’s safe to go on the mission. Poor weather, for example, could stop the pilot from accepting the trip.

If the pilot accepts the mission, the crew isn’t told about the emergency situation until mid-flight. This helps the pilot judge fairly whether or not to take flight, whereas knowing about the severity of the situation beforehand could affect his or her judgment.

STARS will either be deployed to transfer patients from one facility to another, such as bringing one patient from a rural hospital to a larger urban hospital, or to respond to a medical emergency.

The crew consists of two pilots, a critical care nurse, a critical care paramedic and a transport physician. The physician might not be on the flight, but is on the radio giving advice throughout the trip.

Khawaja said whenever a STARS ambulance is called, the situation is critical. She said the nurse, paramedic and physician are all specially trained to be flight emergency responders.

The air ambulance performs certain tasks that a ground ambulance doesn’t, such as blood transfusions and medical ventilation. Each helicopter has two units of o-negative blood on board, something ground ambulances don’t carry.

“(Over the radio) they’re able to chat with the receiving hospital, so those guys are ready with the exact knowledge of tools that they need to be receiving that patient,” Khawaja said.

To keep the helicopter stocked with the medical supplies needed to save lives, the organization relies on charity donations. A single STARS base costs around $10 million to operate each year.

There are three bases in Alberta: one in each of Edmonton, Grande Prairie and Calgary. Khawaja said STARS annual lottery pays for about a third of its annual operating costs. Last year that was about $11 million, enough to cover one base’s costs for a year.

Bet on a good cause

It’s the 25th anniversary of the STARS lottery, and as of Friday ticket sales were already 84 per cent sold. Khawaja said the charity heavily relies on the lottery selling out each year, since it funds a large chunk of the organization’s costs.

By purchasing a ticket you’re not only potentially winning a dream home, you’re also helping fund a life-saving service in Alberta.

Three homes are up for grabs this lottery,  in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge. ‘The Carlisle’ home, which is located in Edmonton, is worth $975,000.

The home is 2,884 square feet, and is complete with three bedrooms and three bathrooms. The three-storey home is fully furnished, except its undeveloped basement. The house has a lake view, spacious back yard and a two-vehicle garage.

It was built by Concept Homes, the builder behind previous STARS dream homes in Edmonton.

A ticket puts a name in the basket for any one of the three homes. Even if you don’t win, Khawaja said the donations are going to a good cause.

“This is huge for us,” she said of the lottery. “We truly rely on the lottery as being one-third of our operating costs here in Alberta.”

One ticket goes for $25, while bundles start at $60 for three tickets up to $250 for eighteen tickets. Ticket sales this year will run until March 22.

“I know sometimes times are tight (financially), but if you’re looking to just get that one ticket, that helps a lot,” she said of the cause.

The dream home is located at 4210 Veterans Way, Edmonton. Showhome hours are Monday to Thursday, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., weekends and holidays from noon to 5 p.m. To purchase tickets or for more information visit: https://starslotteryalberta.ca

Dayla Lahring :Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.