Critical care in the air, CCATT trains to save lives

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kimberly Hickey
  • 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Five critical care nurses from the 934th Airlift Wing's Critical Care Air Transport Team, participated in a training flight over northern Minnesota, Feb. 5.

Capt. Don Brock, the mission clinical and operations coordinator for CCATT, organized the training flight for a crew staffed by Lt. Col. Ed Galvez, Maj. Mark Testerman, Maj. Michael Mackovich, and Lt. Eric Stroup. The quarterly training flight is required for the CCATT team to practice trauma nursing skills to prepare them for deployment.

"CCATT belongs to the Aeromedical Staging Squadron when in garrison or stateside. When deployed and for simulated training missions, we fall under the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron system," explained Brock.

During the training Feb 4, the CCATT team paired with the 934th AES which provided ground support for the CCATT. AES coordinated transport, arranging for necessary equipment such as x-ray machines, and providing food, said Brock. AES provides care for non-critical patients, when no physician is needed. AES is focused on prepping the plane, while CCATT is focused on critical patient care.

"CCATT is different," Brock said. "On the Reserve side, this is our primary duty. Our primary job is to train to go to war. So when we come to UTA, it's all business. We do a lot of flight training, and we try to make this as realistic as possible."

While deployed, CCATT provides critical care for all servicemembers, foreign nationals, and coalition forces, and sometimes even K-9 dogs, who can suffer hearing trauma while deployed, he said.

Neurotrauma is common in their work, and they also provide treatment to patients who experience severe trauma through Improvised Explosive Device blasts, sometimes resulting in double and triple amputations, said Lt. Col. Ed Galvez, a CCATT trauma nurse specialist, a traditional reservist, and trauma nurse in Chicago. 

The training day began with extracting a $67,000 manikin, a Gourmand S-3000 HAL, from the VA Medical Center's simulation lab in St. Paul, Minn. HAL is a male manikin-simulator, used for training purposes.

"It provides the most realistic medical response training that we can get as far as critical care transport providers," Brock said.

The CCATT must pick up their patient, transport the patient to the flight line, and load the patient on to aircraft, said Brock. Critical care patients are loaded last, so they can disembark first.

CCATT operates as a traveling intensive care unit capable of sustaining three patients for 24 hours, said Brock. They carry nearly 800 lbs. of equipment on board, including emergency medications and monitoring equipment. They can perform minor surgeries in flight, if necessary. They must actively resuscitate, hydrate, and stabilize patients in flight.

Throughout the training day, the CCATT team monitored HAL's heart rate, blood pressure and pupil activity.

"Today's training involved a patient with a traumatic brain injury and minor burns," said Maj. Michael Mackovich. "During the training, the patient developed complications related to elevated brain pressures. Treatments and patterns are followed through established clinical practice guidelines, which are evidence-based and provide guidance for healthcare practitioners in treating patients."

CCATT team members understand the requirement to stay current because staying prepared increases the save rate of critical care patients.

"The most important thing I learned from the training flight is that no matter how much civilian background one may bring to the table, and all the classroom study one may endure, we must train routinely to stay fresh," said Mackovich. "When called to action in this environment, there is no room for being rusty. We owe our military men and women the highest level of care."

"Clinical practice guidelines and practice matter," added Brock.

"Our save rate has increased since Vietnam" he said. "We haven't lost a patient yet. None of us have."