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LifeStar vital emergency force
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The LifeStar helicopter takes off on a mission. - photo by Photo by Rick Lott

SPRINGFIELD — When someone has a life-threatening accident and every second matters, they can look to the skies for help.

One small but vital part of Effingham County’s health community is the LifeStar helicopter service. LifeStar began about 30 years ago as part of the Memorial Health System in Savannah.

Today, the vital lifeline is based on the Effingham Healthcare campus in Springfield.

About a decade ago, the service moved its base to Effingham County. The number of calls per month varies but can be as high as 10. The base has teams that include a pilot, a medic and a nurse. The team of 13 works 12-hour shifts which, effectively, has the members working the equivalent of two weeks in one.

The local teams are activated by a call from their dispatch center based on Omaha, Neb. Once local ambulance, fire, police and LifeStar are called to respond to an emergency situation, the Omaha dispatcher puts the call in to the Effingham LifeStar office in two or three seconds.

Pilot Derrick Rodriguez said, “At some point, the medical crew out in the field, they generally know at some point they’re going to need some critical care intervention that we offer the next level of care on the scene or in a hospital that they have to sustain that level of care in transport. So we bring two things with us — one is to travel expeditiously by air, which is we get them there quicker, through traffic and obstacles. And the second thing we bring is a level of care, an emergency-room level of care to the field.”

Rodriguez said LifeStar teams are able to do emergency-room duties on the scene. He said it’s like bringing the emergency room to the patients.

When asked what their most significant mission had been since being based here in Effingham County, he responded that it had been the horrific automobile wreck on Interstate 16 involving a truck and nursing school students from Georgia Southern. He said several aircraft responded to that scene and he personally transported one of the nursing students to Memorial Hospital. 

Rodriguez said they also have to transport children and even neonatal calls.

Because the local Lifestar office is a small group, its members are like a second family.

Rodriguez said, “We probably know each other better than our own spouses know us.”

He also said that because they touch lives in the community and are on duty for so many hours at a time, that occasionally community members will bring them food. Occasionally, they get helicopter drawings from children.