Flightcell DZMx, saving lives, communications, HEMS, EMS, helicopter, search and rescue, sar, technology

Communication Technology to Save Lives

By Rob Neil

Imagine you are out hiking in the mountains with a friend—many hours’ walk from the nearest civilisation—when the pain first strikes you. Your shortness of breath is more exaggerated than it should be as your chest tightens in agony and debilitating pain radiates through your neck and into your arm. Nausea overcomes you and despite your exertion, your skin feels cold and clammy and you collapse and struggle to stay conscious.

Luckily, your companion realises you are having a heart attack. Thankfully, too, he is carrying a cell phone and calls for help. The emergency operator immediately recognises the deadly symptoms and dispatches the nearest EMS helicopter.

The operator asks your companion where you are—but he doesn’t know. All he knows is that you are at the top of a mountain, the name of which he has no idea. You’ve been walking all day since you parked the car but you left the main trail several hours ago. He doesn’t know the area; only you do—and you’re in no position to tell him. You’ve traversed valleys and hills and crossed several un-named rivers and streams. Without your knowledge, he is completely lost; a decade ago, your death would have been virtually certain. Thankfully, the EMS industry has a few tricks up its sleeve beyond the first aid capabilities of its highly capable doctors and paramedics.

Thirty minutes after your companion’s first call, a twin-engined “aerial ambulance” is en-route to the area where they think you might be. Rather stupidly, neither you nor your companion brought a GPS receiver with you, and he only has a basic cell-phone. However, the helicopter crew are not stressed about finding you; they have done this before.

As the helicopter nears your general vicinity, your companion’s phone rings; it is the helicopter crewman calling via the on-board Flightcell DZMx to ask him if he can hear the helicopter.

“I can hear you,” he tells them. “You’re a way off to my north.”

Soon he is able to guide the searching helicopter towards your location until it is directly overhead and they are able to land nearby. Police and search and rescue personnel have been following the helicopter’s progress using the tracking capability of the DZMx and the crew’s quick DZMx-connected cell phone call confirms your location with them.

Today a ground rescue is not an option, and within minutes, you are safely aboard the helicopter in the care of a paramedic, who immediately connects a 12-line ECG to monitor your struggling heart. Now every second counts in the race to restore blood flow to your damaged heart muscle.

The DZMx—which has already allowed Police and search and rescue personnel to track the helicopter’s exact position, and facilitated the cell-phone call confirming your location—now begins transmitting information from helicopter’s on-board ECG monitor directly to waiting heart specialists at the city hospital where you are bound. As the helicopter speeds towards town, doctors analyse your condition in virtually real time and make plans for your immediate treatment. It doesn’t matter that the helicopter passes through two brief cell-phone coverage “black spots” en-route; the DZMx continues the data transfer from the ECG whenever cell-phone coverage is available throughout the flight.

At its home base and in the Police operations room, the helicopter’s return journey is tracked continuously, regardless of cell-phone coverage, as the DZMx’s tracking function switches seamlessly between cellular and satellite data transfer as required.

By the time the helicopter’s skids touch down on the hospital landing pad, the operating theatre and its staff—who have been tracking you and knew exactly when to expect you—are prepared and ready for you. Ninety minutes after your friend made his urgent call for help, you are in the theatre and on the first steps to recovery, thanks not only to the paramedics who rescued you, but also to the incredible technology that virtually placed the hospital’s expertise directly into the helicopter.

It is worth noting that at the same time as it enabled mission-critical voice and data communication and contributed to saving your life, the DZMx (connected to an electronic trend monitoring system) continued its constant background task of monitoring the health and operating parameters of the helicopter’s engine and systems—effectively saving money for the operator while the operator saved your life!