IntlSOS 30 Years - From East to West - Page 151



08 Developing a Global Infrastructure | Assistance Centres
A Heartening Story
In March 2013 the Philadelphia
Assistance Centre received a call:
A US citizen in Panama had had a
massive heart attack and needed to
be transferred to Florida, as the
nearest place of medical excellence.
The call was escalated to Dr Quigley;
his assessment was that the patient
had only about a 20% chance of
survival and that depended on giving
him a mechanical heart and getting
him back to the US.
Artificial hearts are very specialised
devices, not available in Panama, but
Dr Quigley, leveraging our Global
Assistance Network unit, was able to
access one almost immediately. The
Philadelphia medical and operations
teams were able to pull together a
team of cardiac specialists and
dispatched them straight to Panama
with an artificial heart. Meanwhile they
arranged for the relevant hospital
privileges for this team of foreign
(US) doctors to perform surgery in
the Panama hospital, which they did
within one hour of arrival. It was the
first time this operation had been
carried out in that country and by a
foreign medical team. The aviation
and operations teams orchestrated
the landing of a second air ambulance
which was waiting on the tarmac to
return the patient to the US (Miami)
where he was discharged 30 days
later. It was a memorable event for all.
Having a doctor always
available really does make a
fundamental difference.
— Dr Neil Nerwich
The team on the call desk needs to stay calm, listen
carefully and give the caller the confidence to impart
the necessary information. They need to be flexible
and creative, at the same time as following procedures
and knowing when and how to further escalate a call
within the professional hierarchy of the company.
Pascal: “Our members call us for a solution not just
a medical opinion. The best specialist may know
what to inject but if he is not part of a team that can
get the medication to the patient on time and is
capable of inserting the needle in the right place,
then he is a deadweight!”
Having a doctor always available really does make a
fundamental difference. An important memory for
Pascal was the call received in one of our Assistance
Centres at midnight. This was not a call from one of
our members seeking medical assistance but a
request to guarantee payment of medical expenses.
As this was deemed to be an administrative matter
the CSE began to deal with it. It then emerged that
the payment was in fact for future medical treatment
– surgery at a specified hospital to amputate the leg
of a 19 year old American girl. The CSE immediately
passed the call over to the call desk doctor. The
doctor quickly realised that alternative treatment at
a different hospital would be a better option and
suggested this. We were then asked to take over the
case medically; we did so and the young lady’s leg
was saved. The team spirit between the Customer
Service Executive and the doctor on our call desk
altered her life.
Mock calls and scenario planning have become a key
part of our training. Siow Yen Goh, Manager of the
Singapore Assistance Centre, spends much time
checking that people are up to the task; as she says,
“Some calls can be stressful. People need to have
emotional maturity.” Recognising this, a few senior
staff on her team are specifically assigned to manage
repatriations after death, and all staff are offered
counselling after major events, such as the tsunami.
Dr Quigley: “I was so proud to be part
of this multidimensional organisation
that could so quickly pull together an
aviation and medical team, supported
by our Assistance Centre which kept in
constant touch with everyone. No other
operation in the world could do that
logistically and operationally. That’s
what we rehearse for. It’s why we are
here and it’s incredibly rewarding.”
Noel Zuniga, the patient: “Had it not
been for International SOS I would not
be here today. There is no doubt
about that.”
London Assistance Centre, 2013.
143

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