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Southwest Region

Chris Owen, Fort Worth Center

In the service of air traffic control, failure is not an option. So with a one-day-old, critically ill infant onboard a Lifeguard aircraft en route to Dallas Love Field from El Paso, Texas, with no way to establish a direct radio or phone connection to Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, it gradually became clear to Owen, the aircraft’s pilot, and hospital personnel on the ground that the only link between doctor and patient was going to be Owen himself.

“Our medical crew was fortunate to have contacted Mr. Owen, who proved to be a vital asset during the course of this transport,” wrote Children’s Medical Center of Dallas Transfer Coordinators Jason Tumlinson and Amber Delaughter, in a letter after the event, praising Owen’s “adept skill and assistance. He became the communication liaison between the medical team and the physician at Children’s Medical Center during the flight.”

The hospital’s transfer team provides specialized pediatric care to a very large outlying community which it serves by plane, helicopter, and ground ambulance. These patients are often very ill and require a great deal of intense specialty pediatric care during transport. During this particular flight, the hospital’s communication efforts were hindered due to a lack of technology aboard the back-up Lifeguard aircraft.

When Owen received the radio call from the aircraft, it was over Midland, Texas, too far away to receive the hospital’s radio frequency.

Owen offered to relay the medical information to the hospital.

“We’ve got a great deal of information to disseminate through the frequency and didn’t want to tie you up,” said the pilot. Owen provided the local flight service station frequency in hopes of establishing the needed link to the hospital. But two attempts were unsuccessful. The news aboard the aircraft wasn’t good.

“If you would, please let Children’s Medical Center know that we have a very critical patient on board and we need a doctor waiting for us at the airport,” the pilot remarked.

Owen used a land line telephone to reach Delaughter at the hospital and tried in vain to establish a way for doctors there to communicate directly with the aircraft. The result of Owen’s best efforts was that the hospital could hear the voices aboard the aircraft but Owen had to relay information back to the plane from doctors on the ground.

Several times, communication was cut off to the hospital but Owen was prompt in reconnecting the line. However, with a fever that had spiked to 101.5 degrees, the infant was not doing well.

“I think things are going in the wrong direction,” the onboard nurse said. “Stand by and I will put the other pilot back on and perhaps you can help communicate.”

Owen said he continued to relay the doctor’s instructions through the pilot and, eventually, he remarked, “they told me they had gotten the infant stabilized. After a little while, the doctor was satisfied with the infant’s condition and left the phone to meet the flight at Love Field.”

The infant survived and, Owen later learned, was doing well.

“Mr. Owen was professional and courteous throughout the course of the entire event,” wrote Tumlinson and Delaughter. “In our field, we are called upon to help those individuals and organizations with medial emergencies that cannot help themselves. In this event, however, it was our team that needed assistance and Mr. Owen was there to provide the help in our time of need. Without the efforts of this individual, the patent’s life and well-being would have been at a much greater risk. Mr. Owen was a vital link in the care and treatment of this patient. We wish to bestow our greatest appreciation upon him.”

A transcript of this recording can be found HERE.

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