HCM staff rallies to arrange flight, fuel, pilot, paramedic and supplies to transport an ailing boy and his

father 380 miles to a pediatric hospital near their home on New Year’s Eve—and it’s all donated.

Jan. 28, 2011

H C M E m p l o y e e N e w s l e t t e r

Troy Sifford

Brand Specialist / Analyst

Hill Country Memorial

822 Reuben St., P.O. Box 835

Fredericksburg, TX 78624

tsifford@hillcountrymemorial.org

830.990.1877

Focus - Angel Flight

 

When a father desperately needed a way to get his ailing son 380 miles home, health

care professionals at Hill Country Memorial began a chain of humanitarian works to safely fly them

there—with medical care—for free.

The story begins on the roads between Lake Charles, LA, and Central Texas. Devan Temple, 15, couldn’t hold his

cough anymore, and he let one escape. He hoped his dad wouldn’t be alarmed. He was attempting to hide it

because he did not want to jeopardize the New Year’s Eve hunting trip. They were going to San Saba, TX, to hunt on a

friend’s deer lease. It was a special outing for them both—but especially for Devan. He had been diagnosed

at the age of four with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. It is a severe recessive form of muscular dystrophy

characterized by rapid progression of muscle degeneration, eventually causing the inability to walk and an early death

at about 20 years old. It affects one in 4,000 males. At the age of nine, Devan was wheelchairbound, and based on the

course of his disease, reaching 20 years old would be a challenge. The responsibility of caring for Devan had

fallen upon Len, Devan’s father. He and Devan’s mother divorced when Devan was four and Len had received custody.

Len remarried, Karla, and she had long embraced Devan as a son. She would drive Devan to a special school

in Bell City, LA, suited for students with needs like Devan’s, and the drive amounted to about 500 miles a week. It was

a burden she was glad to bear.

The deer hunt was on the lease of a friend named Timmy King, and his son, JK, is a good friend of Devan’s. Devan

had a special deer blind provided by cousin Richard Hebert. Set upon a flatbed trailer for portability, it includes a

customized port-a-potty. Devan places his rifle in a vice, and he can discharge it by sucking through a tube. He has

killed bucks before, and on this hunt, he killed two does.

The group was having a good time, but Devan’s cough progressed. Being New Year’s Eve and far from home, Len decided

to take Devan to a nearby hospital ER to possibly get a prescription for an antibiotic. He and Richard drove Devan to

the hospital, and they registered in the ER, but as they were waiting to be seen, another ER visitor advised them to

go to a hospital 45 minutes away. “If your son is really sick,” the visitor said, “you’d better go to the Fredericksburg

hospital.” Len had been concerned about Devan’s cough, but didn’t think it was life-threatening. However, under the

circumstances of Devan’s disease, Len made the gut decision to go to Fredericksburg. Even as they drove the

winding roads through the Hill Country, they were not terribly concerned, and they still were fairly sure all he

would need was a simple prescription. Devan was coughing occasionally, but he was upright in the back seat looking

around. They drove unalarmed, admiring the beautiful Texas Hill Country.

Devan Temple and his dad stop for a picture with their cousin and friends

on a hunting lease outside San Saba, TX. From left are Timmy King, Luke King, Devan Temple,

Richard Hebert, James King (JK), and sitting, is Len (Devan’s father).

 

 

They arrived in Fredericksburg and Len noticed Devan was starting to have more difficulty getting a good breath. They pulled into

the ER parking lot at Hill Country Memorial. The three men entered the ER, and they were greeted by Registration

Clerk Mary Hobbs. Len spoke quickly and firmly to explain his son’s situation. He was beginning to worry. Devan was immediately

wheeled to a room in the ER, where he was seen by triage nurse, Valerie Witten, RN, and he was then quickly seen by ER

doctor Peter Coldwell, MD. Dr. Coldwell has been an ER physician for over 20 years, and he has performed a tour of duty

in Iraq as a physician in the Texas National Guard. For his expertise and professionalism, he was most recently promoted to the

rank of colonel and to the post of state surgeon in the guard. He examined Devan and found his oxygen level to be very low.

Amy Coward, RN, and Cardiopulmonary Therapists Vanessa Calkins and Danielle Morrison stabilized him with a breathing

treatment, but his condition did not appear to be sustainable. It could easily take a turn for the worse, and Dr. Coldwell recognized

that Devan needed to be at a hospital that specialized in pediatric care. Cindy Loeffler was the trauma coordinator on duty.

If a patient needs to be shipped, it is her job to know the best place for them to go, and she suggested Dell Children’s Medical

Center of Central Texas in Austin. However, it was questionable if Devan would survive the trip, and if he was going to die,

Len wanted him to die in Lake Charles. The best solution, he could see, was to get him to their home hospital, Lake Charles Memorial

in Louisiana. The HCM team wanted to honor his wish, and they went to work trying to find a way to get Devan home.

The team soon hit another roadblock—cost. A jet transport would cost up to $20,000, and even a ground ambulance ride would

cost about $10,000, and there was great concern that Devan would not be able to survive a ground trip for that duration due

to his declining condition. Furthermore, insurance was not going to cover a transport to a hospital that far away, because the

jaunt would effectively pass approximately 150 other hospitals. Len was desperate. He told Cindy, “I’ll just take him. We’ll just drive it.”

Cindy was forthright with Len, and she told him she didn’t think there would be a good outcome. Len looked for other options.

He called an ambulance company in Lake Charles to try and arrange a lower cost, and his cousin Richard called a friend with a jet, but

unfortunately, it was already in use.

Meanwhile, Cindy called a colleague she knew had aviation contacts, Sheila Schmidt, RN. As the HCM director ofcase management, Sheila

has aided in many medical cases, and her actions in this case, while off duty, set about a series of generous acts. Sheila had been

enjoying a low-key New Year’s Eve celebration. Her daughter Kora came to her and said, “Mom, your phone rang.” Sheila checked

the message, and when she heard the situation, she quickly went into action. She called Cindy back and said, ”I’ll make some calls for

a plane, a pilot and fuel. We’ll also need a paramedic, oxygen and an ambulance to take Devan from the ER to the airport in Fredericksburg.”

Sheila then called her sister Scarlet, who lives nearby. Scarlet Kennedy and her husband, Joey, own Kerrville Aviation, where they provide

hanger, fuel and maintenance services for client airplanes. Sheila asked, “Can y’all help with an angel flight.” They were immediately

willing. They would donate the fuel, costing about $1,500, and they knew who to call for the rest—Kit Carson owns two planes and his pilot

Bill Grebe had flown in many medical emergencies as a pilot in Vietnam. One of the planes Kit owns is a Merlin, faster than his

alternate plane, and Joey called Bill and humbly asked if Kit would be willing to loan the slower, smaller plane.

Bill and his wife, Valerie, had plans to go out this holiday evening, but in a moment’s notice, they were willing to fly. Bill called Kit

and asked if it was okay to use his plane.

Meanwhile, Len was at a counter in the Fredericksburg ER, desperately seeking an affordable ambulance. Cindy talked with Sheila

about the plane and went to tell Len. “We have a plane,” she said. Len asked the ambulance company to hold. “What did you

say,” he said. “We have a plane, a pilot, fuel, paramedic, oxygen and all the supplies for you and Devan to go home.”

“How much will it cost?” he replied. “It’s all donated.” As she said it, the gravity of her words hit them, and tears engulfed their eyes.

He politely hung up with the ambulance company, and then wept at the realization his son could possibly get home, alive.

The angel flight crew was deploying. Pilot Bill Grebe and Valerie quickly drove to the Kerrville airport, and their flight to

Fredericksburg took only four minutes. They landed at Lady Bird Johnson Airport and waited. Meanwhile, paramedic Harvey

Lansford found a substitute, Frank Stead, NR EMT, Col (TX)., to take his shift with Fredericksburg EMS, so Harvey could donate his

time to aid Devan on the flight. When he got to the airport with Devan and Len, they soon learned that Kit had donated the use of the

Merlin aircraft, which would ensure a quicker trip home for Devan. “There wasn’t ever any question,” Kit later said. “We knew he

needed to get there fast, so we loaned the fastest plane.” The passengers boarded and settled in. Harvey would provide Devan

with a breathing treatment to help him improve breathing, and he would help keep Devan propped up for optimum oxygen flow.

Harvey was on the ready should Devan’s condition worsen.

The plane taxied to a take-off approach, and as it rose into the air, Len saw everyone on board— his son, the paramedic, the pilot

and the pilot’s wife. He felt relieved that his son was going home, proud in his choice of  risking the trip to Fredericksburg from San

Saba, but well aware that the events which had led to this flight were far beyond his control.

At about 350 mph, the flight took an hour and fifteen minutes. Up high and with atmospheric pressure abated, Devan’s

condition improved. He became more coherent during the flight—his first flight ever—and he enjoyed all the grandeur

of his maiden voyage in the two-prop plane. It was a stormy night in Lake Charles, but Bill knew the airport well, and he

easily approached the emergency runway. He landed the plane safely, and Karla and an ambulance were waiting for them.

Devan was admitted to the Lake Charles Memorial and directed to the ICU, where he was placed on a ventilator. The battle isn’t over.

Four weeks have since passed and he is still fighting. His heart has stopped twice—one time for twenty minutes. Doctors

cautioned there was a good chance he would have brain damage, but he has since shown strong mental health. While his low

oxygen levels have hampered his speech, he has mouthed words and written messages. “He’s a fighter,” his dad said, proudly.

After the angel flight dropped Devan and Len in Lake Charles, the flight crew took off in the rain and fog and returned home safely.

They received a hero’s welcome. The ER staff and the angle flight crew were thanked by HCM Chief Operating Officer Steve

Sosland. “I frequently see our ER professionals do a great job, but their attitude of never giving up, no matter the challenge, is remarkable.

And the help from Joey and Scarlet Kennedy, Kit Carson, Bill Grebe and Harvey Lansford is unforgettable,” he said.

“We are forever grateful for their quick, generous actions. They gave up of their time and money for this emergency—in a

heartbeat—and we are deeply thankful to them.”

Back in Kerrville, when Kit Carson was thanked he said, “I can’t blame Devan and Len for wanting to go home. That’s where I would

want to be. When Joe and Scarlet asked, "We didn’t think twice. We were glad to be able to help.” Len said, “Everyone was incredibly

nice. Fredericksburg has some amazing people. It makes you want to live there.”

The HCM ER staff and the angle flight crew continue to keep in contact with Len and keep tabs on Devan. They’re in awe of his

plight and his determination to live. Devan is the hero now. Paramedic Harvey Lansford said, “I just talked to Len, and it

sounded like last night was rough for Devan. We think about him a lot, and we’re all pulling for him.”

Len keeps things in perspective. “We hope he lives, but if the worst happens and he doesn’t,” he said, “his last memories will be of

doing what he loved—hunting—and he will have died at home.”