A recent medical error of a wrong-site surgery that occurred in one of the country’s best hospitals, Massachusetts General, reminded me why doctors need to be less like Chuck Yeager and more like Captain Sullenberger.
Growing up, I always wanted to be a fighter pilot, years before the movie “Top Gun” became a part of the American lexicon. My hero was World War II pilot Chuck Yeager, who later became one of the country’s premier test pilots flying experimental jet and rocket propelled planes in a time when they were dangerous, unpredictable, and unreliable.
Much like the astronauts in the movie “The Right Stuff,” Yeager and his colleagues literally flew by the seat of their pants, made it up as they went along, and never really knew if their maiden flight in a new aircraft might be their last. They were cowboys in the sky wrangling and taming the heavens.
Fast forward to January 2009, when shortly after takeoff, a one-in-a-million chance, a double-bird strike completely disabled a US Airways jetliner. Captain Chesley Sullenberger, with the help of his co-pilot Jeff Skiles, ditches the aircraft in the Hudson River in under four minutes even as the nation surely expected a tragedy. But not on that day. Not with that pilot. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*
When it comes to facilitating transportation for wounded military personnel and their families, US Airways tops the generosity list, providing about $1 million in complimentary plane tickets/year. Steve Craven, a volunteer pilot with Mercy Medical Airlift, sat next to me en route to a recent Red Cross volunteer recognition ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He told me about the great lengths that some airlines will go to to help military families in need. For example, United Airlines and Delta Airlines have both recently offered assistance with the transportation of military personnel to cancer centers of excellence. Sadly, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, and Southwest Airlines have repeatedly turned down requests for assistance.
According to Mr. Craven, his organization coordinates about 25,000 Angel Flights, 10,000 cancer-related flights, and 6,000 Iraq war veteran flights (via Air Compassion for Veterans) per year, with over 7,000 volunteer angel pilots nationwide. Mercy Medical Airlift also runs a National Patient Travel Center which acts as a clearing house/military travel agency for charitable ticket programs, air ambulance discounts, and special lift programs – including transportation to the NIH for clinical trials.
I asked Mr. Craven what sort of patients need the air ambulance service. He responded that often times elderly veterans or military personnel with terminal illnesses wish to die at home (rather than in a specialty hospital or facility) but are too sick to travel in a regular airplane. The air ambulance service allows them to fulfill their last wish and die with dignity.
Sometimes, military families have a very sick child and have exhausted their resources but need specialty treatment at an academic center. Mercy Medical Airlift makes sure they get where they need to go. Once there, the families often stay at Ronald McDonald House or Fisher House. We’re so grateful to our partner airlines who make it possible for military families to stay together in times of medical hardship.
I offer my thanks to US Airways for their generosity to military personnel and their families – as a rehab physician, I know how much it means to them to have their family with them in sickness and in health.
Secretary Robert Gates Addresses The Red Cross At Walter Reed