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Americans too fat to be airlifted by medical helicopters

Thursday, July 25, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: America, obesity, aeromedical transport

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(NaturalNews) America is no longer the world's fattest nation - Mexico is - but that isn't saying much, considering obesity rates in the U.S. are only a few percentage points lower.

And that's becoming a problem - especially for those who develop a medical condition that requires aeromedical transport.

According to ABC News Health, "America's growing girth is grounding patients who need emergency help by air... An estimated 5,000 super-sized patients a year - or about 1 percent of more than 500,000 medical air flights annually in the U.S. - are denied transport because they exceed weight and size limits or because they can't fit through the aircraft doors."

250, 350, 450 pounds...

"It's an issue for sure," Craig Yale, vice president of corporate development for Air Methods, one of the country's biggest air ambulance firms, told ABC News. "We can get to a scene and find that the patient is too heavy to be able to go."

And that's a big deal - no pun intended - because most patients needing air ambulance transport are in serious trouble and require immediate advanced medical attention. In some parts of the country, air transport is the only option.

So as the country continues to collectively put on weight - some two-thirds of Americans are clinically overweight or obese - experts note that medical providers are having to boost their existing air fleets; they are being forced to buy larger helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, which, of course, costs more (and which, in turn, gets passed onto all patients). The alternative is to risk leaving critically sick and injured patients to other forms of transportation.

Per ABC News:

Just this spring alone, records show that at least three other Air Methods patients were declined, including a 460-pound Texas victim who couldn't breathe, a 444-pound Arizona patient with severe abscesses and cellulitis and a 225-pound Arizona patient who had an infection caused by flesh-eating bacteria and couldn't be transported by a responding helicopter.

The next available option is ground transportation - a traditional ambulance - but sometimes that can take twice as long, and that's extremely risky when seconds count. ABC News said that a 2011 study by Academic Emergency Medicine, an industry trade journal, found that patients who were able to be transported by air ambulances were less likely to die by one-third compared to patients transported by ground.

"Clearly, someone who's bleeding or someone where you can't control the bleeding, they've got to get there," Dr. David Thomson, a professor of emergency medicine at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and a board member with the Association of Air Medical Services, told ABC News.

It isn't often that patients are too heavy to fly, but it does happen regularly enough that, increasingly, flight crews keep measuring tools on hand.

"There have been a couple of times the crew would go into the hospital and measure the patient then measure the tunnel (the entrance to the aircraft) and say: 'No, this guy's not going to make it,'" Thomson said.

Too fat to fly?

Patient size limitations differ widely, depending on several factors - medical transport operators, weight of the crew, aircraft types and what kind of weather is occurring. Brenda Nelson, chief flight nurse for Seattle's Airlift Northwest, says her crews begin to worry about patients who weigh more than 250 pounds and are wider than 26 inches.

Other air ambulance companies regularly handle heavy patients, however - patients in the 350-400 pound range. "At the Duke University Health System, officials with the Life Flight program recently bought two new EC-145 helicopters at a price of between $8 million and $10 million, partly so they could handle patients up to 650 pounds," ABC News said.

"For pretty much everybody in the state, there have been situations where the patient has been too big," Barbara Willis, Life Flight's clinical operations director, said.

Before receiving the new aircraft, she said Life Flight patients were limited to abdominal girths of 44 inches.

"Now we really don't have to worry," Willis added.






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