Mercy Life Line Celebrating 30 Years of Saving Lives

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Saving a life can come down to a matter of minutes, even seconds. For decades here in the Ozarks, helicopters have been used to make overcoming hilly, rural terrain easier for medical crews and the patients they are trying to help.

Mercy Life Line is celebrating 30 years here in the Ozarks. In the last 30 years, Mercy has expanded to five helicopters over a four state region, Southwest Missouri and where Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas touch. Despite improved equipment and strides forward in medicine, the emergency personnel are still working to beat the clock.

30 years ago, Registerd Nurse Lisa McFall was the first RN to staff Mercy Life Line, which was a gift from John Q Hammons.

"We could only carry two patients, they can carry more than that now," McFall said.

Three decades later, the helicopter is more modern with better equipment, but the key element in saving a life, remains time.

"It's crucial, crucial, crucial," McFall said

What does it mean to have air transport from remote rural areas with two lane highways? We asked Dr. Charles Sheppard, Medical Director Of Mercy Life Line.

"We shorten that time dramatically, if you think about down in the lake country somewhere, you might be an hour or two by ground and even with lights and sirens to a cath lab or a trauma surgeon, whereas, in the aircraft you may be 15-20 minutes," Sheppard said.

The second critical element is the availability of critical care.

"We're a very rural area so there are areas that don't have much in the way of emergency services. So we can provide extra equipment, expertise," Sheppard said.

So if it's a traumatic car accident, or a heart attack or stroke, time is all the more pressing.

"Trauma we talk about that 'golden hour,' that if we can get you to someone who can stop the bleeding, fix the problem, we have a much higher chance of survival. If you're having a stroke, the medication has to be given in 3 hours, if it's going to work at all," Sheppard said.

But, the speed comes with a cost. The bottom line is affected by the injuries to the patient, their insurance coverage and length of travel.

Program Director for Mercy Life Line DJ Satterfield puts it in perspective.

"Patient transport, time is crucial, unfortunately there is a cost associated with that. Certainly, air medical transport is more expensive than ground, like if you're flying to St. Louis versus driving to St. Louis, it's the same comparison," Satterfield said.

The medical personnel responding to a scene, dispatchers, doctors and nurses that make up the flight crew all have to work together to make the decision about whether a patient can handle an ambulance ride or whether Life Line needs to be called.

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