Miracle workers: 758th AS flight crew transports baby to life-saving medical care

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Marjorie A. Schurr
  • 911th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

When asked what you did during the week leading up to Christmas, what do you think of? Do you think of wrapping gifts to put under the tree? Getting everything together to cook a special dinner? Maybe you celebrate a different holiday and were planning something special for your friends or family? Or maybe you were just thinking of how nice it would be to do nothing at all?

Transporting an infant in an incubator over the Pacific Ocean probably wouldn’t have come up on your list – unless, that is, you were a member of the 758th Airlift Squadron tasked to fly aeromedical missions the week of Christmas.

“I’ve been lucky enough to do this mission for the last five years, and we take a crew out and we go fly this Christmas mission,” said Lt. Col. Tom Huzzard, director of operations with the 758th AS and the aircraft commander for this unique mission. “The purpose of the mission is to pick up military members and military family members who need medical attention back here in the states that they couldn’t get otherwise.”

Normally, 758th AS members who volunteer for the “Christmas PACAF,” as Huzzard called it, fly from the continental U.S. to Hawaii, where they then pick up medical crews to transport to Okinawa, Japan. They then make several stops to transport crews and patients before returning to Pittsburgh. Patients are often military members and their families, but sometimes also include civilians in desperate need of assistance.

This year, however, things did not go according to plan.

“We’re used to the mission changing pretty often,” said Tech. Sgt. Ron Toia, 758th AS loadmaster who served as the mission loadmaster for this flight.

Even with the crew being used to change, this still wasn’t going to be their typical patient or cargo.

“In this particular case, the baby was in an incubator,” said Huzzard. “So we had a full medical team, a baby, and an incubator, and we loaded them all up for about a nine-hour flight to Joint Base Andrews.”

The crew shifted gears, loading their precious cargo into the bay of a 911th Airlift Wing C-17 Globemaster III the next morning. An aeromedical evacuation team from Kadena Air Base, Japan, prepared the baby and their mother for the long journey to Joint Base Andrews, Virginia, for urgent medical care.

However, what was already a less-than-routine flight quickly became even more dire when the baby started to seize. No matter what medication they tried, the medical team could not stop the seizures from coming, and they still had a long way to go.

Thousands of miles away from their destination with the Pacific Ocean sprawling beneath them, the aircrew only had one option to save the baby’s life.

“About ten minutes later, the doctor said we needed to return to Hickham to get a new medication,” said Huzzard.

A flight nurse was sent to the cockpit to coordinate with medical units at Hickham, and a medical emergency was declared. Still, the mother of the baby put her trust in the aircrew and medical team to care for her and her baby.

“The mom was very calm the entire time,” said Toia. “I think she had faith in us and in the medical team to do what was right for her child.”

The crew pushed the aircraft to its limits and flew as fast as they could back to Hawaii, where medical teams had the new medication—and the hope it brought—waiting for them.

The medicine was still no guarantee, said Huzzard. They were not sure if the medicine would work, and they might still have to turn around again after getting in the air. But once the aircraft reached cruise altitude, all seemed to be well, and they were able to safely deliver the baby and mother to Andrews.

This isn’t the first time that this crew flew a baby in dire need of help on the Christmas PACAF, said Maj. Wes Baranowski, 758th AS chief of tactics. About two years ago, the same crew transported a premature child stateside from Hawaii in time for the holidays.

“I don’t think this happens often,” said Baranowski. “This just may be a coincidence that Lt. Col. Huzzard and I may share on this annual trip we always do, but it feels really good to bring people back and ensure that everyone is okay, so it’s pretty rewarding.”

Even with the somewhat unique nature of this year’s mission, Huzzard, Baranowski, Toia and the rest of the crew were able to keep calm and ensure their patients arrived safely.

“The doctor came up to me at the end of the flight and said, ‘Thanks for your flexibility in all this. I’m not sure the baby would have made it if we hadn’t turned around,” said Huzzard. “We told her that’s what we’re here for.”

Though they don’t know what happened to their little patient or how the baby is doing, all three of these crew members expressed their well wishes for the baby’s health and said that they were honored to help.

“Even if you weren’t hands-on with the child, every portion of what everybody does is very important,” said Toia. “Whether it be the ground people, the support, pilots, or loadmasters, the whole team is always needed.”