February 28, 2011

Ocracoke youngster recovering after Coast Guard airlift to Norfolk hospital


A 17-month-old Ocracoke boy and his parents are breathing easier after the child was airlifted by a Coast Guard HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter to a Norfolk hospital on Friday, Feb. 28.

Uriah Johnson, son of Mike and Amy Johnson, is home and is much improved after receiving treatment at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Friday afternoon, said his father in an interview Monday.

Uriah had a high fever and chest congestion on Friday when his parents took him to Ocracoke Health Center, Mike said.

An assessment by Dr. Erin Baker suggested the diagnosis might be pneumonia, and hospital treatment was recommended, Mike continued.

But Friday’s high winds along with a line of thunderstorms all along the eastern edge of the Pamlico Sound complicated matters.

Baker kicked into gear and got the Ocracoke Emergency Medical Services calling for a helicopter to transport Uriah to the hospital the Johnsons had chosen.

Eric Godby, the paramedic on duty, tried the first line of helicopter defense—EastCare, based at Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville.

But both EastCare and the air ambulance at King’s Daughters were grounded because of the weather, said Brian Carter, chief paramedic on Ocracoke.

The winds on Friday were sustained winds of 25 to 30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph, said Jared Holtz, director of Hyde County EMS services.

“Any time you see flight under those conditions, you’ll see the military,” Holtz said.

The rules of civilian helicopter flight dictate that helicopters must always have three points of visual contact while flying over open water, Holtz said. If weather conditions don’t allow those, and if the pilot deems it unsafe, they don’t fly.

The Marine helicopter, Pedro, a Chinook, out of Cherry Point, also wasn’t available to fly into the storm system. Since the Coast Guard is out of Elizabeth City – on the way to Norfolk -- Godby contacted the Coast Guard.

The Jayhawk touched down on the Ocracoke helipad at 12:25 p.m., loaded Uriah, Amy, and Godby and lifted off at 12:40 p.m., Mike explained.  They arrived at King’s Daughter at 1 p.m.

Mike caught the 1 p.m. ferry to Hatteras and got to Norfolk about five hours later.

“The winds were even higher in Norfolk,” he said about that day. “The whole street was filled with dust and debris.”

Both parents spent the night at the hospital with Uriah and returned to Ocracoke on Saturday.

Mike praised the work of the health care and emergency service personnel on Ocracoke.

“Dr. Baker took immediate control and gave out directions,” he said. “Eric Godby was fantastic and I was impressed with the readiness of the Ocracoke Fire Department out at the airport.”

Amy noted that the Jayhawk flight was amazingly smooth, and she was “very grateful for the Coast Guard’s service in times of duress.”

Holtz explained that anytime a patient is airlifted off Ocracoke, one of the EMS workers accompanies the flight.

EastCare, which has five helicopters, is Ocracoke’s main airlift resource, Holtz said, but there are several others options available, which was apparent in Friday’s situation.

He noted that EastCare just got night vision capability, which will add to the service’s resources.

“We have a lot of resources at our disposal for Ocracoke,” he said.

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