NASHVILLE, Tenn. - On Sept. 11, 2012, shrouded in darkness more than a thousand feet underground within the narrow passages of a Maury County, Tennessee cave, an experienced spelunker began to encounter the first debilitating stages of a massive stroke. Over the next five hours, countless rescue personnel from the Maury County Fire Department, Regional Emergency Management Services and the Vanderbilt University Hospital Lifeflight Team descended on the site. Time was the enemy and any delay could cost him his life.
Among the many rescue personnel on site that day was a member of the Tennessee Air National Guard’s 118th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Maj. Keith Evans. During the cave rescue Evans was in his civilian role as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner with Vanderbilt’s Lifeflight crew. He credits his training and experience from participating in global combat and disaster relief as an Air National Guard flight nurse to be an important contribution on that day’s mission.
“The type of circumstances such as the cave rescue do not arise that often and I feel strongly my prior experiences as an Army medic and Air Force flight nurse during combat rotations greatly prepared me for this situation,” stated Evans. “No two flights are alike and the training and experiences from the military have taught me to think outside of the box and be prepared.”
Evans vividly recalls arriving on the site after landing in the Lifeflight aircraft near the scene of the caving incident. Maury County Rescue and EMS were already loading the patient in a specially designed basket when he and his crew entered the cold muddied cave.
“We assisted in extricating the patient from the cave and up a hill, all the while providing medical care. We loaded him into an ambulance for the ride to the aircraft and flew him to Vanderbilt Hospital. During the flight we managed his blood pressure and airway to provide as much stabilization as possible. On arrival at the hospital he was in a dire condition, unable to speak and move his right side,” he said.
Fortunately for the victim, Vanderbilt’s Trauma unit had access to the latest in emergency stroke recovery procedures and with the intervention of medical experts the victim experienced a rapid recovery over a few weeks.
Evans began his military career in the United States Army in April, 1993 serving as a combat medic until joining the Air National Guard in 2000. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2002 he continued his civilian education at Vanderbilt University graduating in 2008 as an Acute Care Nurse practitioner. During this time he was sent on numerous military deployments, to include time in Afghanistan and Iraq, all the while studying for his degrees. In 2004 he was commissioned with the 118th AES in Nashville, Tennessee, as a First Lieutenant and promoted to the rank of Major in January, 2011. Evans has flown for Vanderbilt Lifeflight since 2006 while serving as a Registered Nurse in the Vanderbilt Trauma unit before his current assignment.
The 118th AES has deployed personnel to numerous locations around the nation and world to provide medical support to United States forces during war, and citizens in times of humanitarian crises such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
“I have deployed with Maj. Evans many times and our experience has provided many lessons we use both in our hometown jobs and military missions. We often have to work very quickly to save lives and be prepared for any contingency. Our members are qualified to operate on three different aircraft and combined with medical requirements, real world missions and overall training the AES workload is intense. Maj. Evans is one of the many tremendous personnel under my command and we are a strongly cohesive unit, very much a family,” stated Lt. Col. Julia Moretti, commander of the 118th AES, an operational unit of the 118th Wing in Nashville.
“We are so proud of our own Maj. Evans for his cave rescue. He and all our AES personnel do a tremendous job saving lives around the world. This is a great example of the value of having such dedicated Air National Guard citizen soldiers and the experience they bring to our local communities,” said Col. Chuck Echols, commander of the 118th Wing.
Maj. Evans, along with the many Maury County emergency personnel and Vanderbilt Lifeflight team involved in the rescue efforts were presented with the Star of Life Award by the Tennessee Emergency Medical Services for Children Organization. The award recognizes particularly outstanding lifesaving efforts of the emergency services community for their professionalism and life preserving skills.
The immediate action of all the emergency personnel on site saved a critically ill patient in very difficult recovery circumstances. The integrated response of all the emergency medical services made the rescue a success. Maj. Evan’s training in the Air National Guard was a significant factor in his ability to handle the crisis that day and provides an insight into the military experiences that prepare Guard members in their diverse careers at home and around the globe.