BANGOR, Maine — The 20-minute helicopter flight in March from the Carrabassett Valley airport to the helipad at Eastern Maine Medical Center felt like forever to Jeremy Martin but it saved his daughter’s life.
Abigail Martin, 11, of Belfast was skiing with a friend at Sugarloaf when she hit a tree. The impact fractured her skull, crushed her sinus cavity and shattered an eye socket.
“Without this chopper, this support team, Abi would not be here today, Jeremy Martin, 42, of Belfast said Saturday. “Every time it flies over the house to land at the Waldo County [General] Hospital, I wave and say thank you.”
Martin, who is the code enforcement officer for the City of Bangor, and his daughter spoke at a celebration to mark the 15th anniversary of LifeFlight of Maine. The Open House event was interrupted when the helicopter was called to Greenville to transport a cardiac patient from the C.A. Dean Hospital to EMMC.
The trip was one of more than 16,000 similar flights taken since the inception of LifeFlight in 1998, Thomas Judge, executive director of LifeFlight, said Saturday, the anniversary of the first flight.
“Fifteen years ago, the first helicopter flew to Deblois, where a worker had been injured,” Judge said. “His fellow workers cut down trees to clear a landing area. It was a perfect example of how great the need was.”
Maine was the last state in the country to set up a statewide emergency air medical service, he said. A decade later, it was named the best service in North America.
LifeFlight crews each year care for between 1,500 and 1,600 critically ill and injured patients, according to Judge. About 80 percent of the calls are like the one Saturday from Greenville and involve patients who need a critical response including high-level specialty care, equipment and rapid transport from a community hospital to a trauma or specialty medical center. The other 20 percent are emergency calls to or near accident scenes such as Abigail Martin’s skiing accident.
In addition to its flight crew, LifeFlight also has a ground crew that transports patients short distances. In August, 190 critically ill patients from 66 Maine town and 30 hospitals were served by ground and air crews, according to information provided at Saturday’s event. Between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, 21 percent were ground transports, 62 percent of flight transports were between facilities and 17 percent were on-scene landings.
Over the next decade, LifeFlight in Maine anticipates the number of patients it serves to double, Judge said. To accomplish that, it will need to add a third helicopter, at a cost of $6.8 million, and a fixed wing airplane, estimated to cost $3.5 million.
Jeremy Martin said Saturday that he will give as much as he can to upgrade the fleet and its technology because LifeFlight didn’t just save his daughter’s life when it brought her to Bangor from western Maine. It flew her to the Tufts Medical Center in Boston when Abi developed a brain infection in June and had to have additional surgery.
“Now, she’s back in school and cleared to run cross-country,” Jeremy Martin said. “She’s active again. That couldn’t have happened without LifeFlight.”