City road crews are essential to navigable communities, but working right next to oncoming traffic comes with serious risks, as Carla Minogue knows all too well.
In May 2004, she was working as the designated traffic flagger for a road crew repairing a section of the Trans-Canada Highway in a rural community.
“I was holding the sign that said slow or stopping people if they needed to be stopped,” said Carla. “It was the end of the day, and I was picking up cones and putting them into the truck ahead of me and a car came out of the lane that was still open on the highway and hit me from behind. It then rear-ended the truck that was parked in front of me. I was somewhere in the mess of vehicles, and nobody really knew what to expect when they came to see me.”
As her crew members rushed to remove her from the wreckage, a call was placed to 911 who alerted STARS Emergency Link Centre that an air medical crew was needed.
“I remember being on the highway, on the pavement and hearing that STARS was coming and we were just waiting for the helicopter to arrive,” said Carla.
“Highway landings are a common procedure for STARS crews, but you have to be careful because no landing is the same. There are a multitude of hazards whether its weather, visibility, wires, trees, or the condition of the landing area,” said Greg Curtis, the STARS pilot who flew the helicopter on Carla’s mission. “Doing it successfully is only possible through following our strong standard operating procedures and with flight crew being in constant communication with first responders on the ground. I’m glad we were able to be there for Carla.”
Carla’s injuries were life-threatening, with extensive injuries throughout her body.
“I broke two areas of my back, T five and six, which was a pretty serious break, and I had to have surgery. I have rods beside my spine now, holding it upright. I had a cracked pelvis and a broken foot and some damage to my knee, broken ribs, crazy bruises everywhere and probably a concussion of some sort from the impact. The impact was really strong, so strong that it blew my tied-up steel-toed boots right off my feet. They were found in the ditch later.”
When severe spinal injuries occur, the smoother transit that a STARS’ helicopter provides is critical for the recovery of the patient, as a bumpy transit on the road can worsen the injury. In Carla’s situation, the highway was shut down by local first responders so that STARS could land directly at the site of the incident, load Carla into the helicopter, and take her to a trauma centre.
By the time the helicopter arrived, paramedics on the ground had stabilized Carla’s spine for transit, and the STARS crew was able to provide a smooth transit and essential critical care enroute to a major hospital. This collaborative approach prevented further injury and ensured that with the assistance of her medical team, once she recovered, she could walk on her own again.
Specific to spinal injury, the STARS Critical Care Medical Control Protocols have been developed to guide air medical crews on how to manage and transport potential spinal-injured patients. This includes how to immobilize and protect a potentially unstable spinal cord injury from any further damage during transport. The protocol has been developed and guided by nationally accepted evidence.
“STARS uses evidence, accepted international guidelines, and a committee of physicians and researchers to develop evidence-based, best practice protocols for the treatment of spinal injuries,” said Justin Mazzolini, STARS’ Critical Care Medical Control Protocols lead. “Often patients with spinal injuries have associated traumatic injuries, so in addition to caring for the spinal injury, multiple treatments and protocols may be employed by air medical crews to stabilize blood pressure, ensure adequate oxygenation and ventilation and rapidly transport patients to tertiary care.”
Despite her successful recovery, Carla continues to deal with the lingering impact of her injuries. However, she is grateful for the impact that STARS has had on her life.
“I remember thinking, oh no, this must be really bad,” said Carla. “But at the same time, having some reassurance knowing that I was going to be in the best hands, in the best care. I was very close to being paralyzed,” said Carla. “I’m very grateful to STARS for taking such good care of me to keep me walking.”
“I got to meet Carla 19 years after her accident,” said Greg Curtis. “Getting to connect with her was one of the most meaningful visits of my entire career. It really was a treat to meet her.”
Since her accident, Carla and her family have become even more involved with STARS, including volunteering their time to raise funds for STARS’ critical care mission and spreading awareness of STARS’ essential work.
“I just want to say thank you to the sponsors and the donors and the partners for supporting STARS and supporting people like me,” said Carla. “Because without you, lots of us may not be here or maybe looking and feeling a lot differently than we are today, so thank you.”