Eastern Iowa mother says AirCare helped save son's life

After 33 years, AirCare helicopters have transported more than 20,000 patients

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An Eastern Iowa mother says her son may not have survived a “horrific accident” had it not been for the University of Iowa’s AirCare program.

Roberta Abernathy's son, Trevor, was injured in a construction accident in Tama County in January.

“If he had to go by ground, he probably would not have survived,” Roberta Abernathy said. “That was one of his battles, to get to the hospital.”

Late in the afternoon on January 30, Trevor, 22, fell off a ladder and became impaled on a piece of rebar sticking out of the ground. The six foot metal rod went through his head and into his brain.

“I had my buddy cut it off,” Trevor Abernathy said of his recollection of the incident. “That was it.”

A UI AirCare helicopter was called to the scene and transported Abernathy to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where he underwent emergency surgery to remove the rod from his head.

“The accident happened around 5 p.m.,” Roberta Abernathy said. “He was in surgery by 8 p.m.”

Staff members of the UI AirCare program don’t like to take credit for “saving lives.”

“I have people ask me how many lives you've saved, and I tell them I haven’t saved any lives,” said flight nurse Rick Ogren. “But the system has saved thousands of lives.”

The AirCare program launched in 1979, becoming one of the first 15 such programs in the nation. In its 33 year history, AirCare helicopters have transported more than 20,000 patients over three million miles.

“We provide rapid safe transport,” said pilot Bob Hartman. “The people who provide the treatment, I’ve watched for 20 years, it’s excellent.”

Hartman is employed by Air Methods, the company that leases the University its two AirCare helicopters and a handful of pilots.

Other regional medical helicopters also frequent the UIHC helipad, which sees an estimated 2,000 flights a year.

“On a summer day you can have 15 to 20 aircraft in a period of 12 hours (on the pad), so it’s very busy,” said AirCare flight paramedic Toby Hancock. “I’m proud to be a piece of the puzzle, really am.”

Roberta Abernathy is also happy Hancock and others are part of the program, which she says employs a "fantastic staff."

Trevor is now recovering from his injuries at his Belle Plaine home. He said he sometimes struggles with reading and speech, but "is quickly getting back to normal."

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