Patients become too heavy for medical emergency helicopters

An estimated 5,000 US patients requiring medical treatment are denied helicopter transport each year because they are too heavy or large to fit in an aircraft.

To accommodate the nation’s super-sized patients, emergency
medical providers are now being forced to purchase larger
helicopters and fixed-wing planes. More than two-thirds
of American adults are overweight or obese, which has caused a
dilemma for air transport providers.

“It’s an issue for sure,” Craig Yale, vice president of
corporate development for Air Methods, told NBC. “We can get
to a scene and find that the patient is too heavy to be able to

Emergency medical providers use helicopters in dire instances
where a patient needs the fastest possible transportation to
survive. But if a patient is too large or heavy to fit in the
helicopter, they may not be able to receive the urgent care they
need in a fast enough manner.

About 5,000 obese patients are denied helicopter transportation
each year in the US. In some cases, their weight or size exceeds
the aircraft’s capacity, but in other cases, these patients
simply cannot fit through the doors. Even if heavy patients fit
into the aircraft, their weight can sometimes prevent a
helicopter from lifting off the ground.

Transporting a patient that exceeds a helicopter’s weight
capacity can also pose a dangerous risk to all on board: a
helicopter that crashed in New York’s East River in October 2011
went down because it was over capacity by 250 pounds.

“It is definitely becoming more of a problem,” Dr. David
Thomson, a professor of emergency medicine at East Carolina
University, told NBC. “The whole spectrum of ER
services, from flying to ground services, gets affected when
you’ve got these huge folks.”

The ability for a helicopter to lift heavy patients also depends
on the air density, and obese patients are more likely to weigh
down the aircraft when the air becomes thinner during the summer

“If you have a really hot, humid day, we can’t lift nearly as
much as on a day when it’s cold and crisp,”
Thomson said.

This spring, a 460-pound patient from Texas, a 444-pound patient
from Arizona, and a 225-pount patient from Arizona were all too
large to fit in a responding helicopter. The patients were
suffering from breathing problems, severe abscesses and a
flesh-eating bacterial infection, respectively. After emergency
responders were unable to fit them in a helicopter, the patients
had to travel by ambulance and their chances of survival were
severely hindered.

Some emergency helicopters are unable to carry patients weighing
more than 250 pounds, and others are able to accommodate patients
weighing up to 650 pounds. As a result, emergency medical
providers have been forced to expand their fleets and purchase
larger air ambulances, which can be costly.

The Duke University Medical Center has recently purchased two
large helicopters at the cost of $10 million each. And unless
two-thirds of all Americans shed their extra weight, medical care
providers will need to drop the extra cash to accommodate the
growing girths.

Republished with permission from: RT