When someone's life is in your hands, you really have only two options.
"Fast as possible and as safe as possible," Anna Vanden Bosch, Careflight Flight RN Avera-McKennan, said.
For paramedics, flight nurses, and EMT professionals; every second counts.
"We work side by side out here," Vanden Bosch said.
The work continues behind the scenes. Sanford Health and Avera McKennan EMS workers are coming together at the South Dakota Lions Eye and Tissue Bank to practice their skills on donor bodies.
You have likely heard of organ, eye, and tissue donors. There are also generous individuals who donate their bodies to facilities, including the Eye and Tissue Bank, so medical workers can gain more expertise in their field and improve treatments for those who live.
"We did chest tubes on each side. We can also practice intubation as well as some more emergent airways," Matt Mahal, Sanford Flight RN, said.
Because showing a deceased body on TV may be upsetting, these men and women are giving us an idea of what they do using a living volunteer. Vanden Bosch, Mahal, and others will practice on these donors so they are prepared for anything out in the field. They said the Eye and Tissue Bank gives them invaluable experience, because working on a real person better prepares them for real situations.
"To feel what it's like, you know, putting your hand inside of a chest cavity. We have mannequins and we have, you know, the simulation mannequins, but mannequins only get you so far," Mahal said.
"They let us do procedures that we never get to do unless in a crisis emergent life or death situation," Vanden Bosch said.
There is another facet to the partnership between EMS workers and the Eye and Tissue Bank. 58-percent of South Dakotans are registered as organ, eye, and tissue donors. South Dakota Lions Eye and Tissue Bank CEO Marcy Dimond said a federal mandate requires hospitals to contact organ, eye, and tissue organizations after a death. However, in many cases, an individual may not make it to the hospital before he or she dies.
"If somebody dies outside of that facility, we may or may not hear about that call and their wish to be a donor may go unanswered," Dimond said.
By working together, if a patient dies on the way to the hospital, local EMS professionals are trained to check to see whether that patient is a donor. At that point, they contact organizations such as the Eye and Tissue Bank.
"It bridges a gap, so when there is a death, they have an 800 number they can call, contact us, and make a referral - basically. Which we act on the same way if a hospital called us with a death," Dimond said.
Dimond said they are not trying to be what she calls 'ambulance chasers' The goal is to honor the donor's wishes, and help spread the gift of life to others who have been waiting for a donation.
"With the aspect of the donor registry, so many more people's wishes are already known. But if we don't know about that through our partnerships, we just can't act on those wishes," Dimond said.
As for Vanden Bosch and Mahal, they said it is just another way they can save lives.
"It is a big privilege for us to be able to serve our community and be able to go out there like that. And I know there are no other flight services that get to do this," Vanden Bosch said.
Eye on KELOLAND