Flying Doctors

Peace of Mind in the Bush

African Medical and Research Foundation of Kenya (AMREF)

By Iris Hunt

Because I live here friends often pick my brain about what to expect on Safari.

Probably the most frequently asked question is that of safety. What if a medical emergency should arise, while you are in the bush, hundreds of miles from a good hospital, and thousands of miles from home and family?

Well, we experienced just such an emergency ourselves. It has given me a better understanding of why people are apprehensive about this aspect of their Safari.

Recently, on a Saturday night Don came down with violent pain which he self-diagnosed as coming from his appendix. He is 71 years old; we were not going to take any chances. We were lucky to find a doctor in the remote area; I took the precaution of trying to organize a charter plane to take us out and to the safety of a hospital. But it was Saturday night. Darkness was setting in rapidly and no charter could be organized fast enough to land on an unlit bush airfield.

Kenya Rescue flights

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The doctor diagnosed Don’s situation as most urgent. Thank goodness for the guys at the flying Doctor Service in Nairobi. Once I managed to get through to them everything happened very fast and very efficiently.

Being a member, all that they asked me was to show up at the nearest airfield with my patient and a credit card for the hospital.

I have been a pilot for decades and I wondered how, after a landing in the dusk, they would accomplish a take off in the dark on a short, unlit and badly maintained airfield.

Once the Cessna Caravan arrived the paramedic took over and immediately dealt with the patient, checking vital signs hooking him up to oxygen etc. The pilot had quickly connected his plane to his own ground unit to provide ample light and electricity for the medical monitoring machines. While I signed some forms, the patient was made comfortable and we were ready to go. The ground-generating unit was disconnected and loaded back into the plane. As we shut the door I could not help but feel some concern.

It was now pitch black and you could not see in front of you let alone the runway. After the engine was started, suddenly we were bathed in very bright light illuminating the entire apron around us. I had never seen landing lights that bright on even much bigger jet aircraft. We taxied out and the takeoff was no problem with the runway lit brightly by the planes own lights.

Once we arrived in Nairobi, an ambulance stood waiting. To make a long story short, the patient was operated on an hour later and as it turned out none too soon as peritonitis had already set in.

After this experience with a lucky ending I cannot thank the good folks at the Flying Doctor Service enough, and I must recommend that you join. A temporary membership for Tourists is available and your tour operator can organize this for you prior to your arrival.

The Flying Doctor Emergency Service is an Air Ambulance Service for East Africa and beyond. This includes worldwide repatriation. They have their own fleet of fully equipped aircraft and ground Ambulances that cater for the needs of patients 7/24. Their team of full time medical and aviation professionals are able to respond to all medical emergencies.

Your membership is a small price to pay for peace of mind. As you will probably and hopefully not require their Services, your membership contribution will go towards the 3000 or more needy patients that receive free evacuation and surgery each year from the Charity component of AMREF’s Flying Doctor Service.

Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy