Though three bullets ripped apart his chest, abdomen and left thigh, senior Congress leader VC Shukla, 84, survived the Maoists ambush in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district, which left 27 dead and 32 injured last fortnight.
Apart from his indomitable will, what helped him live was air evacuation, which made him reach specialists at Medanta in Gurgaon, more than 900 km away from Raipur, within hours of being shot.
Some others could not make it. Delhi’s brutalised gangrape rape victim was hanging on to her life by a thread when Medanta’s critical care team airlifted her to Singapore in the early hours of December 27 in 2012.
“I looked at her and decided we had to do even better for our patients. We had air-ambulances, but what we needed was an ICU (intensive care unit) in the sky,” said Dr Naresh Trehan, chairman, Medanta.
In six months, his plans took off in the form of Flying Doctors India, an air-rescue initiative that offers emergency medical care at 30,000 feet above sea level.
Three Pilatus PC12 NG aircraft have been customised to function as ICU units on board to give realtime critical care to patients while they are being evacuated to a hospital after a medical emergency, such as a heart attack or multiple bullet wounds.
“Flying Doctors India has a team of 40 doctors across specialties who are on call 24x7 to provide on-board medical support.
The team has the largest flying doctors’ experience in India, having done of more than 500 evacuations in a little over two years,” says Dr Trehan.
“These are customised ambulance equipped to handle medical emergencies ranging from blood transfusions to angioplasties,” says Dr. Yatin Mehta, Chairman Institute of Critical Care, Medanta.
“It also does away with preparation time, we can get permits and take off within an hour of getting a call,” he adds.
Currently, chartered airplanes are converted into air-ambulances chartered airplanes that are fitted with portable life-support.
The cost is expected to be lower. “Not leasing airplanes will allow us to move faster and charge patients about 20% lower than the current charges,” says Dr Trehan.
Current charges are between Rs 65,000 - Rs 70,000/ hour of flying time.