Extreme care taken on Giffords' flight to Houston

This shot was taken from inside the plane transporting Rep. Giffords from Tucson to Houston (Courtesy Rep. Gabrielle Giffords office)

January 21, 2011 5:01:45 PM PST
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' transport to Houston may seem a bit unusual And while in some ways, it was unique, in others, it was just like the thousands of medical transport flights that take place every year all over the world. Friday's flight was aboard a plane owned by family friend and Houstonian Tilman Fertita, the same plane on which astronaut Mark Kelly first flew to be by his wife's side after she was shot nearly two weeks ago. But on this flight, the aircraft accommodated the patient's care.

On board was the medical team from Tucson and two Life Flight nurses. Life Flight nurses and medics fly 3,000 missions a year. Based out of Memorial Hermann hospital is a team that dispatches and responds to calls all over the region. They answer calls that are both emergencies and that are essentially taxi missions for stabilized patients.

"No one is ever gonna be moved from a setting unless people know for sure that that person is stable to do that," said Dr. Elda Ramirez with UT Health Science Center.

Dr. Ramirez trains emergency care workers, including many who become flight nurses and paramedics.

"The preparation is really more dramatic in a lot of ways than the actual movement," said Dr. Ramirez. "Their prep in terms of having everything with them that could possibly be utilized for something that could go wrong."

She says a transport like Congresswoman Giffords' is not unusual, but it is tricky taking a wounded patient from a stable hospital room into an unstable environment, from ambulance to airplane to helicopter and then back into a hospital room.

"Maybe they have increased adrenaline, excitement, as well as just a change in blood pressure, change in pulse rate, that can affect pressures in the brain," said Dr. Ramirez.

It's a constant monitoring of the patient that, in this case, went flawlessly.

Life Flight, by the way, is the busiest air ambulance service in the country. It receives no direct public funding and is paid for by private donors and Memorial Hermann.