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Swiss Air-Rescue Rega, to home page

When horsepower runs wild

Two people pursue their favourite pastime on holiday: on horseback through the Moroccan countryside or on a motorbike on the race track in Spain. But both of these enjoyable activities came to an abrupt end after an accident. Time to call Rega.

Al Massira Airport in Agadir, Morocco: the Rega jet is waiting on the airfield for the patient, the cabin doors open, the ramp unfolded. The sun is shining into the cockpit and the two pilots, Raphael Jenni and Marco Merz, are bent over their tablets. They are preparing for the next leg of the flight – they will be travelling on to Murcia in Spain, where a second patient needs to be collected. 

Outside, a member of staff from the Moroccan airport attracts the Rega crew’s attention: the ambulance with the injured Swiss woman is arriving. Intensive care flight nurse Andrea Spindler and flight physician Marcel von Dach climb into the vehicle to greet the patient, Anita Jeggli. Tears of relief roll down her face.

Carrying a spanner with her

Together with the Moroccan medical staff, the Rega crew carefully push Anita Jeggli up the ramp into the cabin and gently transfer her to the bed in the jet, keeping a constant eye on the patient’s injured leg. Before takeoff, the flight physician examines it more closely. His Moroccan colleagues have attached an external fixation device to the lower leg, as is customary in the initial treatment of such fractures. “It looks clean and very good,” is his verdict. “The good news is that it will heal.” Anita Jeggli breathes another sigh of relief.

The patient asks Andrea Spindler to pass her bag. She removes something and holds it out to the two crew members: “The spanner for the device on my leg!”, she explains. Marcel von Dach gives a grin. It has never happened to him before that a patient is carrying a tool for their external fixator with them. “We won’t adjust anything at first,” he assures her. “We want to leave the dressing closed to avoid the risk of infection.” Andrea Spindler attends to the patient, covers her with a blanket, holds the straw in the water bottle to her mouth, checks the drip with the painkillers and the oxygen saturation, and asks if she needs anything else before they take off. Anita Jeggli says no and closes her eyes.

A second patient is waiting in Spain

In the cockpit, pilot Raphael Jenni is on the phone to the flight coordinator at the Rega Center. The crosswind in Murcia could be so strong that the Rega jet has difficulty landing or might even have to fly to another airport. But then the ground ambulance with the second patient in Murcia would be waiting in the wrong place. “That’s why we’ll play it safe and fly directly to Alicante,” explains First Officer Marco Merz. Last-minute changes to plans are normal on such missions: the flight coordinator in Zurich will inform the Spanish ambulance and reroute it. During the flight to Alicante, Marcel von Dach holds Anita Jeggli’s X-ray images up to the light and studies the report from the Moroccan clinic. He records his medical assessment and the painkillers administered in the flight report.

The accident

Later, Anita Jeggli is able to relate what happened: “I’m a passionate horsewoman and have often been horseback trekking in Morocco. Every time, riding in a group through the beautiful landscapes is a fabulous experience,” she enthuses. But on the third day of the trek, it happens: during a gallop across the open terrain, a horse next to Anita Jeggli kicks out to the side and hits her lower leg with its hoof. She hears a crack, cries out, and her horse is startled. Although she falls off the horse, in pain and fright she does not let go of the reins. The horse turns around her and stands with its hoof on the same place on her leg. After Anita Jeggli regains consciousness, she looks down: the lower part of her leg is sticking out at an unnatural angle and blood is seeping through her clothing. “Fortunately, residents in the nearby village realised that something had happened and called an ambulance,” she explains. Anita Jeggli is taken to the clinic in Tiznit, 100 kilometres south of Agadir, an hour’s drive away. There she is quickly treated and given painkillers, antiseptic and a diagnosis: an open fracture of her lower leg.

Contact with Rega

Anita Jeggli calls the Rega Operations Center. With the help of the trekking guide and following a telephone conversation, the Moroccan hospital staff send the X-ray images to Rega’s medical consultant. She recommends undergoing emergency surgery on location to set and stabilise the fracture. For organising the transport to Switzerland will take some time: the necessary overflight and landing permits have to be obtained, the flight route planned and the local ambulance organised.

Growing concern

A few hours later, Anita Jeggli is operated on and the external fixator is attached and secured to the bones with screws. This stabilises the bone fragments caused by the fracture so that they cannot become misaligned. “I was in very good hands and received professional medical care,” says Anita Jeggli. But she is worried: will her leg make a full recovery? Was everything sufficiently germ-free so that an inflammation would not suddenly develop? These are just some of the questions that bother her. “When I was moved, I was suddenly surrounded by ten people – and then not a soul around.” Anita Jeggli is alone and completely immobile. “I would have liked to have brushed my teeth or washed myself,” she says. But her requests for help go unanswered. It is only later that she realises that the nursing staff at the Moroccan hospital are not responsible for patients’ personal hygiene or meals – the patients’ relatives take care of that. Her trekking guide finally brings her a basin and a facecloth and towel so that she can wash herself as best she can. “I’m just so grateful we have Rega. I don’t know how I would have got home otherwise,” she says.

Return home in an ambulance jet, not a car

The ambulance jet lands in Alicante to fetch the second patient. After his motorbike accident, Nicolas Schmassmann spent a week in hospital and was planning to drive home by car with his son. Now the Rega patron is lying on the second bed in the ambulance jet and is glad that he is travelling home by jet and not by car. He brushes aside the memory of the accident with a wave of his hand. He is an optimist: “Everything will turn out okay.” Nicolas Schmassmann had spent his vacation riding his motorbike on the Circuito de Cartagena, near Murcia. On one circuit, his bike skidded from under him on a bend and caught fire. But luck was on his side: no burns, but in hospital the Spanish doctors diagnosed a thoracic trauma and a fractured pelvis and arm. Back home, his wife contacts Rega. In hospital, Nicolas Schmassmann struggles to communicate, even though he speaks Spanish. The Rega medical consultants come to his assistance and provide him with the necessary information about his X-rays and the MRI findings. They advise him against travelling home by car.

From the jet straight to the hospital

After an approximately two hour flight, the Rega jet touches down in Kloten. An ambulance takes the patients to a hospital near their respective homes. This is followed by further medical examinations, a second operation for Anita Jeggli, and days of further recovery – but now in familiar surroundings with family and friends close by.

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