Sanford AirMed: A crucial health service in rural Midwest

“He wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the air ambulance."

A young man sits on a cough between his parents. Family photos and a sign that says "Olson" are displayed on the wall behind them.

For rural states like North and South Dakota, getting to the nearest hospital or clinic can sometimes take several minutes, sometimes up to an hour. In a critical situation, Sanford AirMed can be the difference between life and death.

Sanford Health’s air medical service operates a fleet of four helicopters and four airplanes from bases in Bismarck, Dickinson and Fargo in North Dakota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Bemidji, Minnesota. Inside each of these aircraft you’ll find some of the most experienced nurses, paramedics and pilots around, getting patients where they need to go in a timely manner.

On Dec. 2, 2018, Jayden Olson of Taylor, North Dakota, found out just how important time is when fighting for your life.

From truck ride to ambulance ride

Jayden, along with his brother and friend, were feeding horses north of Richardton, North Dakota.

It was about 2 p.m. that Saturday when the pickup truck Jayden was riding in rolled over. The road they were driving on had just been redone and the shoulders of the road weren’t completed. When the vehicle hit the edge of the road there was no slope to allow the driver to correct the vehicle. When the pickup rolled, Jayden was ejected from the vehicle.

After Jayden’s brother called 911, the Richardton-Taylor Ambulance Service arrived at the scene and took Jayden to a hospital in Dickinson, North Dakota.

“When I first got to the hospital, the first thing they asked me was who my pastor was,” said Jayden’s mom, Jeanine Olson. “Then they said that Jayden was non-responsive and they needed to get him to Bismarck as soon as possible.”

Airlifted to emergency surgery

From Dickinson, Sanford AirMed airlifted Jayden to Sanford Health in Bismarck.

“They must’ve been there very quickly, because we left at the same time and by the time I got to Bismarck, which is 90 miles, he was already in surgery,” Jeanine said.

“He wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the air ambulance,” said Jayden’s dad, Micah Olson.

Jayden suffered from a traumatic brain injury and lacerated spleen. Eric Belanger, M.D., a brain and spine neurosurgeon at Sanford Health in Bismarck, operated on Jayden.

Because of the blood clot in Jayden’s brain, Dr. Belanger had to cut a piece of his skull out and place it in the stomach to keep it viable. Then the surgeon put Jayden’s skull back together.

‘You can hardly tell he had surgery’

“If it wasn’t for AirMed, he wouldn’t have gotten the surgery as quickly as he needed it and he wouldn’t have been able to make the progress that he’s made already,” said Jeanine. “I mean today, five months after the accident, you can hardly tell he had surgery on his skull.”

Today, Jayden is back working four-hour shifts at Pepsi four days a week. And he says he’d like to meet the people on the AirMed team who helped him and say, “thank you.”

“Those guys are awesome — a miracle,” said Jayden.

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Posted In Brain & Spine, Emergency Medicine, Rural Health

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