Saving lives across the Nordic region with the intensive care helicopter

News

They are Karolinska's newest department and the workplace is often the new intensive care helicopter. AIIT is a mobile intensive care unit where staff are tasked with transporting critically ill adults throughout northern Europe.

Sarah Jevrém and Sebastian Rennerskog work in the AITT helicopter.

The Intensive care Transportaion Center (ITC) is an umbrella organisation that organises specialised transport teams. Three have been around for some time, but the Advanced Intensive care Transportation Team (AITT) had its very first mission on 22 September 2022.

- The transports take place between hospitals inside and outside Sweden, and are carried out by intensive care bus, helicopter or ambulance flight, depending on the patient's needs, distance and weather conditions, explains Sebastian Rennerskog, intensive care nurse.

He works in a team with Sarah Jevrém, Deputy Senior Consultant at the Peri-Operative Medicine & Intensive Care Function.

- It has been shown that if you have dedicated transport teams, the chances of survival increase. Transporting a critically ill person is a risky business, and having a dedicated team increases experience - you have a better understanding of the risks of transport and what needs to be done," explains Sarah. Sebastian adds:

- 'We can take over caregiver responsibilities already at the home hospital and solve the transport for the care needed at Karolinska.

Logistics and problem solving important

Before the 16 AITT employees stepped on their first shift, they had to undergo a thorough training, consisting of both theory and simulations.

- In the hospital, you can always press the emergency button, but up in the air, it's just you, your colleague and two pilots. You have to have thought everything through and always be one step ahead, because if you miss something when the patient is strapped 10,000 metres up in the air, you're in a worse position then on the ground," explains Sarah.

- There's also an important logistical piece to bear in mind. You have to make sure that the whole logistics chain works, for example there are gas connections and electrical outlets abroad that are not compatible with ours. We have to plan for that. We also need to interact with the local hospitals, for example to meet an ambulance on landing". Sebastian adds. 

Helping other hospitals with transport

Although at the time of writing AITT has only been in existence for just under two months, the team has already had severeal long-distance transports.

- For example, we have flown by helicopter to a neighbouring Nordic country to deliver a patient who was being treated for cardiac arrest in Sweden," says Sarah.

The patients was picked up with the ICU bus at another hospital in Stockholm for transport to the helicopter waiting on the roof of Karolinska. As soon as they landed at the destination, they were met by a local ambulance to transport the patient to the hospital. 

Helped with surgery in the north for four hours

The AITT team works closely with the pilot during each flight.

The AITT team works closely with the pilot during each flight.
Another memorable case was when their colleagues in the AITT team had to help out at a hospital in northern Sweden. The hospital had received a severe knife wound that they could not handle and wondered if the patient could be flown to Karolinska for further treatment. Before departure, the helicopter pilot advised that the weather was bad over land and that they needed to fly over open sea which means that the team had to wear rescue suits the whole flight.

Thanks to experienced pilots, everything went well. But once the team landed, it turned out that the patient was so unstable that transport was not possible then and there.

- Instead, our colleagues had to step in and assist the local team. We can contribute with our trauma expertise, we are specialised for just that. It's something that requires a lot of training," says Sebastian.

- The patient was in surgery for four hours before he was stable enough to be transported. 'I really don't think the patient would be alive today otherwise, but he survived,' says Sarah.

Equal care wherever you live

Today, the on-call team should be ready to take off from the roof of Karolinska in Solna, north of Stockholm, within 30 minutes.