KAUNAKAKAI, Molokai (HawaiiNewsNow) - Neighbor island patients are flown to Oahu for critical care every day. The quick transport helps to save lives during medical emergencies. Mel Paoa, a paramedic on Molokai for 33 years, found himself in need of the service after a heart attack in January.
"I felt the pain in my chest and I thought was just from working in the yard," said Paoa.
This husband and father of four decided to check himself out.
"I put the EKG machine on and looked like I had Q waves, ST elevations, meaning had a heart attack previously. So I figure I better go to the hospital," said Paoa.
Tests at Molokai General Hospital confirmed his fears, but the rural facility is only equipped for primary care. In these kinds of cases, a service like Hawaii Air Ambulance - Hawaii Life Flight fills a crucial need.
"In order to provide excellent care, we want to be able to have that tie-in where we know that there is that connection. We can send somebody right over," said Dr. William Thomas, medical director at Molokai General Hospital.
A crew rushed Paoa, 57, to the Queen's Medical Center on Oahu where he underwent open heart surgery. Timing is critical in these kinds of emergencies.
"Before, when I first started, they didn't have air ambulance. We used the freight planes. They bring the bread in, and if a patient needs to go out, we ship them on the bread plane," recalled Paoa.
"Like for bleeding, if you don't stop it as soon as possible or if you don't have blood flow back to your heart as soon as possible, there's a higher mortality rate," explained Dr. Thinh Nguyen, medical director of Hawaii Life Flight.
The medical transport company has been serving Hawaii for 30 years. It is now finalizing its name change to Hawaii Life Flight. The business has been under new management since 2006, upgrading its aircraft and safety standards following two crashes.
In addition to helping patients on Molokai and Lanai, the company also has five neighbor island bases with 24-7 service. There is one on Maui, Kauai, and three on the Big Island.
"I see patients in the grocery store, and especially if I have my flight suit on, they come up and give me a hug and say 'thank you' and how much they appreciate it," said chief flight nurse Matt Jenkins.
Paoa said he is grateful for the care he received. He plans to use his experience as a patient when he goes back to being a paramedic in June.
"I been there, I know what they're going through, and you got 100% of me," he said.
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