Air ambulance takes flight again in Hidalgo County

EDINBURG — A rotor ambulance navigated by GPS and boasting a speed of about 140 miles per hour will again provide air supported emergency service in Hidalgo County.

Hidalgo County EMS-South Texas Air Med marked the start of the rotor ambulance, or ambulance by air, with a ribbon cutting at South Texas International Airport at Edinburg on Tuesday morning. Fire department, law enforcement and city officials were among the crowd celebrating the service’s significance to the city and county.

This is the only air ambulance in Hidalgo County, Paul Vazaldua said, vice president of organizational leadership and government affairs. Hidalgo County was left without this service after Missouri-based Air Evac Lifeteam stopped operations in the region earlier this year.

“I believe that it’s very important that the community understands that this is a service that is available to anyone that may need it, and that is a blessing for South Texas,” Vazaldua said.

Two local legislators played integral roles in bringing the air ambulance to Hidalgo County.

SB500 helped fund the service, with about $5 million poured into airports for emergency services, among other things. State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa co-authored the bill as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

State Rep. Terry Canales also supported and helped secure funding for the air ambulance through legislation.

Canales, who attended Tuesday’s ceremony, said the location is “ideally situated” to serve the county’s needs and is the next step for a Level 1 trauma center in the area during his remarks. Various law enforcement agencies house their resources in the airport, which is located by U.S. Highway 281. The airport serves as a base for the Texas Department of Public Safety, U.S Customs and Border Patrol and other federal and state agencies, he said.

“The reality is today, we are taking a milestone leap into the future … you’re watching the beginning of the infrastructure that is necessary for South Texas to provide the services that are necessary to protect its citizens. If we do not invest in the infrastructure today, the progress that we see will stop,” Canales said.

This is in accordance with the “golden hour,” or the time following a traumatic injury in which the first hour is crucial for a patient to survive.

“In the quest for Trauma (level) 1 designation, a very key component is the ability to airlift patients quickly and timely, so this is one big move toward that goal,” South Texas International Airport Advisory Board Chairman Patrick Eronini said.

Chief Administrative Officer Kenneth Ponce said he expects at least one or two calls for the air ambulance during a 24 hour period.

“The use of rotor services when needed reduces the mortality rate by at least 60 percent,” he said referring to na-tional surveys and the need for air ambulance during the “golden hour.”

The “vastness” of the region makes this a challenge to transport the injured to a health care center, which highlights the need for an air ambulance, Ponce said.

Flight paramedic Louis Corbeil said the helicopter will have additional treatment resources along with health professionals certified for flight and trained in critical care.

“People think that we’re just a rapid transport, and we definitely bring a lot more to the table,” he said.

For instance, they will carry a drug called TXA, or tranexamic acid, which helps with clotting for bleeding, he said. Corbeil said they also carry other medications and are trained to for emergency situations.