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Story of survival: NCH saves teen’s life, thanks to Flight For Life

March 19, 2019

Laura Aagesen has been a trauma nurse for many years, but nothing could have prepared her for the terrifying car accident her son Ian Jackson experienced 20 years ago.

“When I ran onto the scene, they were putting a sheet over him and I thought he was dead,” Laura recalls. “That image will always haunt me.”

It turns out they were shielding him from the hot summer sun.

Ian recalls being T-boned by a vehicle traveling at 60 mph while he was seated in the back of a Geo Tracker. He’d already suffered a broken arm from a previous incident. On impact, he socked himself in the eye with the hard, L-shaped cast. He suffered multiple broken ribs, lacerations to his liver and spleen, a cervical injury and a collapsed lung. He somehow managed to punch his way out of the vehicle and roll into an easement.

“I remember my girlfriend and her friend going back and forth screaming, ‘Are you okay?’” Ian, now 36, recalls. “I couldn’t breathe, so I couldn’t respond.”

An ambulance transported him to a rural hospital that was ill-equipped to handle his trauma. That’s when Laura stepped in and called Flight For Life-McHenry, NCH’s medical transport partner.

To the rescue

The team arrived swiftly and delivered Ian, a 17-year-old high school junior at the time, to the hospital. 

“It’s not just the time savings,” explains Flight For Life Public Information Officer Tammy Chatman. “It’s that we carry blood. We have a critical care nurse and a critical care paramedic who can perform advanced procedures on board. And, we’re equipped with a ventilator and other equipment along with certain medications that are not carried by fire department ambulances. It’s like a flying intensive care unit.”

It felt like seconds from the time Ian and Laura were placed aboard the helicopter to the time they landed at NCH.

“I felt very safe with the team,” Laura says, although flying by helicopter terrifies her. “They put my anxiety at ease. When we got to NCH, he was expedited with imaging and then went to ICU. Everybody was there to greet him from the heliport.”

While recovering from his injuries over the next year in school, Ian learned drafting skills since he couldn’t participate in sports. He now works for a prominent architectural firm in Arizona. 

“I look at my accident as a positive thing,” Ian says. “It led me to the career that I have now.”

Improving process

Twenty years after the flight that saved Ian, Flight For Life continues to improve its process. NCH works with the organization to prepare for any situation through monthly trainings, mock scenes, procedures and drills, one of which was a simulated helicopter crash held in October 2018. 

It took six months to prepare for the drill, according to NCH Emergency Preparedness Manager John Mayer, a former firefighter.
“Internally, it involved our EMT class, three volunteers we used as patients, our ED staff, security, a surgeon who came in for the exercise, our maintenance team that helped out with fire hoses, and we had students observing,” John says. “Close to 100 people altogether in different capacities made this work.”

Is this real?

Some may have thought the crash wasn’t a simulation. As soon as the helicopter landed on the NCH helicopter pad, a drill notification went out to fire and police agencies that the aircraft had experienced a hard landing. A mannequin was wrapped in metal so the fire department could use extrication tools; colored water simulated a fluid spill; a drain was diked to prevent fluid from entering sewers; and fire hydrants were tied into with hoses and activated.

“Our decontamination showers were open and our team cleaned off the three victims plus additional people subsequently contaminated,” John says. “The victims were brought into the ED and because of their burns, they needed to be flown out to a burn unit.”

After the event, hospital staff compiled a written report on how well they were able to communicate with outside agencies. Based on the exceptional coordination that took place and the positive feedback received, NCH was chosen to receive the Flight For Life Partners in Safety Award.

“NCH spent a lot of time and effort along with the Arlington Heights Fire Department to make that drill as realistic as possible, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re getting this award,” Tammy says.

An award presentation will take place at the hospital on April 3. Flight For Life plans to deliver a special plaque, as you might have guessed, by helicopter, weather and flights permitting.

NCH has a state-of-the-art Level II Trauma Center with advanced technologies to treat life-threatening conditions. Find out more about emergency care and our pediatric emergency room.

Learn more about Flight For Life.