24 July 2014

Tiger 45, pt. 3: International MEDEVAC

~1600: The UH-60 lands back at Camp A, and the three injured Marines are transferred to waiting ambulances and then enroute to the closest hospital. Maj Forney makes jokes along the way. The doctors take one look at Maj Forney and immediately say they will be unable to help him. All three Marines return to ambulances and the convoy drives to a second hospital, where the HMM-262(REIN) flight surgeon and an Army doctor meet the ambulances.

The civilian Thai medical team gets to work on Maj Forney; he is so badly burned they cannot find a vein for sedation. But he needs to be intubated and the Thai medical team tries twice before being stopped by the flight surgeon. Maj Forney asks his flight surgeon when he will receive pain medication and the surgeon explains that they cannot get a line into him. Maj Forney then asks if he is going to make it. The flight surgeon replies that he wasn't sure. Maj Forney doesn't remember anything after this point.

The HMM-262(REIN) Commanding Officer (CO) and Sergeant Major get to the hospital; Maj Forney tells them to tell his wife, J., that he is sorry. Maj Forney has no recollection of the conversation.

That night, he is air MEDEVAC'ed to Bangkok in a small jet; it is not configured for medical transport and they remove a fairing from inside the cabin to get Maj Forney's gurney into the plane. The flight surgeon flies with Maj Forney. The CO watches the plane depart.

Meanwhile, in Futenma, Okinawa, Maj Forney's duty station, his wife, J., receives word that a Phrog went down in Thailand; she assumes the missed Skype call by Maj Forney is due to his working the mishap. That night, the CO calls to tell her that the aircraft was Maj Forney's. The CO's wife assists J. with preparations to depart Japan, while other squadron wives arrive to help.  The CO's wife calls military legal personnel to the house to sign POAs and in loco parentis, helps J. pack and a cab arrives to take J. to the airport. Plane tickets are bought on the way to the airport and J. is on the next flight to Singapore. (The Forney's three children remain behind in Okinawa under the care of a rotating group of the squadron CO, MO, and OpsO's wives.)

At the same time, back in the United States, wheels are turning to get Maj Forney to the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC) at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. The Burn Flight Team (BFT) from the US Army Institute for Surgical Research is activated; a highly skilled team of doctors, nurses and medical technicians whose job it is to retrieve severely burned military personnel and get them back to the SAMMC Burn Center. They make their way immediately to Singapore via commercial air while a U.S. Air Force C-17 standby MEDEVAC aircraft at Hickham AFB is scrambled to Singapore as well.

21 Feb 13: Maj Forney is transferred again, this time to the Singapore General Hospital Burns Centre in Singapore. The medical team there debrides all his burns and begin skin grafts - they start by removing skin from his calves to place on his chest.

J. arrives in Singapore and is met by a Marine Colonel from the Embassy staff; they take her to the hospital. She can only see her husband's nose; it is the only thing not covered in bandages. The squadron flight surgeon explains the extent of the injuries to J.; Maj Forney has burns over 54% of his body.

22 Feb 13: The BFT arrives in Singapore and begin immediate coordination with the Singapore doctors to transfer Maj Forney back to the States. While some of the skin grafts ultimately fail, it is the work of the Singapore doctors that Maj Forney credits with saving his life and keeping him going long enough to make it back to the SAMMC.

23 Feb 13: The C-17 departs Singapore with Maj Forney under the care of the BFT. J. and the squadron flight surgeon are also aboard. It is a 19-hour flight back to Texas, requiring a mid-air refueling off of a KC-135 out of Kadena AFB, Japan. During the flight, Maj Forney's vitals drop and become weak; the BFT discusses diverting to San Francisco but Maj Forney stabilizes and they press on to Texas. It is the longest Army MEDEVAC flight on record, over 9,850 miles (1).

The BFT tends to Maj Forney during the flight.  
(photo: Staff Sergeant Seth Holland/Army)

The aircraft is met by the Wounded Warrior Battalion East Detachment Officer-in-Charge and assist J. and the flight surgeon while Maj Forney is whisked to the SAMMC, where he is prepped and taken into surgery.

It is just after 1900 on 24 Feb 13.

(to be continued...)

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