Medical helicopter flights can shave off precious minutes when you need to get to the hospital fast. One flight changed a Middle Georgia police officer’s life.

Butler Police Officer Crystal Houseweart doesn’t remember July 29, 2016.

“I woke up in Macon, and they told me I’d been in a car accident,” Houseweart said.

Even with no memory of the log truck that slammed into her patrol car in Taylor County that day, the surgeries and scars are a daily reminder.

“I broke both my arms, this is a surgical scar, these are from the accident, completely shattered the front of my, right side of my face,” Houseweart said. Her fellow officer Josh Harris remembers. He responded to the crash seconds after it happened. 

“My first thinking was this ain’t going to be good at all…and before she came around to speak I wasn’t getting any response from her and I thought man this is worse than I
thought it was,” Harris said.

The nearest hospital with a level one trauma center equipped to deal with Crystal’s injuries was almost 50 miles away in Macon. Crystal’s best chance of survival was in the hands of Nyssa Hattaway and her Air Methods flight crew.

“With trauma patients you really want to get them into care within the first hour, it’s called the golden hour,” Hattaway said. Hattaway is a flight nurse on an air ambulance
helicopter. She was on the chopper that flew Crystal to Macon.

“Usually we get there in about one third of the time of ground transport and if you’re in Atlanta or Macon it’s sometimes shorter than that, maybe a quarter of the time,” said Dale Farmer. He was also on the flight that got Crystal to Macon.

That speed can mean the difference between life and death when you live in a rural county, like Crystal, miles away from a level one trauma center like the one at Navicent Health in Macon. There are level trauma centers in Savannah, Augusta, two in Atlanta, and then Navicent Health in Macon. That means almost 80 counties from Warner Robins on down south, have to go to Macon to access a level one trauma center.

“So if you think about the geography of the state there’s really nothing from Macon down to the Florida border,” Hattaway said. “Patients who need cardiac care, Navicent has a cath lab that’s open 24/7, and it is a stroke center as well so we can take patients who are having a stroke there.”

According to Hattaway Navicent Health in Macon saw 3,200 trauma calls in 2016. About 40% of those came from outside the counties surrounding the hospital. Officer Crystal Houseweart was one of those calls.

Hattaway doesn’t usually get to follow up with the people she helps fly to the trauma center. But nine months after Crystal’s accident someone else in Taylor county needed to get to the hospital fast. And Crystal was there clearing the scene for the air ambulance to land thanks to her own helicopter ride.

“I got out of the helicopter and saw her and I was really surprised and I said to her I just had a brief few seconds before I had to help take care of this other patient, and I said to her I’m so glad to see you back on duty. And that was a really great moment for me.” Hattaway said.

Read and watch the story from WGXA in Macon, GA