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354th Medical Group and 168th Operations collaborate on Hyperlite Hyperbaric stretcher training

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey
  • 168th Wing

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska – Flyers, divers, and jumpers are in a unique special duty community where they may be exposed to risks in their military operational duties. With preparedness at the forefront and the key to helping people, Airmen of the 354th Fighter Wing and 168th Wing conducted a training course on the Hyperlite 1, Flight Medicine clinic's portable decompression sickness chamber, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, May 3, 2024. The 354 FW flight medicine technicians and 168 WG boom operators collaborated on simulating an emergency transport of a patient requiring oxygen therapy utilizing the hyperbaric stretcher.

Under the guidance of Lt. Col. Pablo Medina, the 959th Medical Director of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine Program, the Emergency Evacuation Chamber (EEHS) portable decompression sickness chamber course was conducted. Medina's subject matter expertise provided in-depth didactics and practical hands-on training. Participants gained comprehensive knowledge of the EEHS system, including the set-up, transport, and loading procedures.

"The hyperbaric chamber at Eielson is the only one in the region," said Medina. "Decompression sickness and air gas embolism are the two conditions you worry about from an operational standpoint. The big concern is exposing jumpers, flyers, and divers to pressure differentials. Those are the conditions we would put someone in this particular chamber."

The training encompassed a range of scenarios, including recognizing DCS and AGE, evaluating patients, setting up the hyperbaric chamber, and treating them in place. The third scenario involved treating patients en route via the KC-135 Stratotanker.

"Most of the cases will be a treat-in-place scenario; however, there are some cases where we would be transporting someone in the chamber via aircraft," Medina explained. "If that is the case, it is a complicated and logistically complicated procedure, so they need to understand what they need to be thinking about and what processes need to happen. Communication between the med staff and the aircrew is extremely important. We need to integrate with the aircrew."

The 168th Wing serves on medical evacuations in the Pacific, transporting patients, including infants requiring patient care, as part of the PAC AE aeromedical evacuation missions. Aeromedical evacuation is designed to provide time-sensitive, mission-critical care to patients traveling between medical treatment facilities.

"This training struck a very similar chord to transporting on other aeromedical missions,” said Master Sgt. Pete Gardella. “We are familiar with loading a wide array of equipment, including looking at specs to load oxygen tanks and medical equipment. I've been a boom operator for over 17 years and never seen the hyperbaric chamber, so this was a good opportunity. Now I can talk to other booms on what to expect."

The training took place over 3 days, including on board the 168th Wing's KC-135 Stratotanker.

"The relationship is one of the most important parts of the training, but also being able to see the equipment they are using to know what is required for us to secure it to the aircraft," said Gardella. "It is a different mission set we do not often do, so knowing ahead of time helps when we transport in an emergency."

Medina is the fellowship program director for the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine program at Brooke Army Medical Center. The program provides specialized training for doctors to further study and understand hyperbaric medicine.

"With DCS and AGE, you have to treat them as early as possible," said Medina. "There is good data that shows the longer you wait, the higher the likelihood of increased mortality or the greater chances patients will have residual issues that will never go away, and for a flyer, that could be a career-ending issue. If someone has DCS and we can get them corrected back to a normal state, then they can get a waiver to continue flying. The earlier we treat them, the better our chance of keeping a flyer in the air."

Staff Sgt. Samantha Jarrett of the 354th Flight Medicine said it is good training that prepares us to treat patients with bends. Rapid descents and ascents can cause bends. We train and work closely with San Antonio Brooke Army Hospital to be prepared for these types of emergencies.