Critical care in Mongolia

Critical care in Mongolia

Our work week started with an urgent call to pick up a baby suffering from a serious illness

The alarm clock was set for 3 am on Monday morning. At 5 o’clock we took off from our base at Ulaanbaatar international airport and headed off to Arvaikheer, municipal capital town of Ovorhangai county, one hour twenty minutes flight to the West. During early summer, morning flights are usually good with calm winds and fair weather.

Story and photos by Roy Rissanen

We landed on the grass runway and taxied to the front of the small terminal. A vehicle was already waiting behind the gate to bring the passengers. This time we did not need the stretcher. The main patient was an eight-month-year-old baby girl, who had turned yellow.

The mother was holding her firm and carried the baby to the plane. We had both a doctor and a nurse to accompany her. Other less urgent patients were booked to join the flight. This is the way how medevac flights are usually coordinated by hospitals in Mongolia, to share the expenses and to make the most use of the airplane’s capacity.

'The flight time was short, assisted by a nice tailwind on the way back to Ulaanbaatar... This was good for the baby because she was in the critical condition.'

The nurse put life support devices in place and did the final preparations before we were cleared to proceed ahead with the flight.

In previous years, MAF put a lot of effort in training local healthcare professionals in the countryside to prepare and care for patients that are transported by air. This project has been yielding good fruit. We get a high number of medevac calls and are able to save a lot of lives in Mongolia. Our experience of working with healthcare professionals is very positive. We feel confident to fly when we know that patients on board are well looked after and kept stable during the flights. Some of the flights are quite long, up to five hours. 

This time the flight time was short, only one hour and ten minutes, assisted by a nice tailwind on the way back to Ulaanbaatar. Arvaikheer altitude is 6000 feet above sea level. Compared to some parts of Mongolia, the terrain on the way is easy with some hills but not high mountains. The wind was steady and there were no thermals. All this was good for the baby because she was in critical condition.

She was put on supplementary oxygen and the nurse was giving her constant attention during the flight to ensure her condition didn't worsen.  She was safely carried in her mother’s arms and escorted to the waiting ambulance after landing in Ulaanbaatar. The MAF flight saved a 311mile road trip - which might not have been an option, to save the baby’s life.

Please pray for the baby girl and her mother as they seek further treatment.