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Flight paramedics take to the skies during COVID-19 pandemic

Published: Jul. 6, 2020 at 7:40 PM CDT
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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - North Platte High School and Mid-Plains Community College alum Michael Vargas has been a flight paramedic for LifeNet for the past eight years and has seen just about everything imaginable.

“There is always a situation where you get into something new and you got to think outside of the box,” Vargas said.

But he’s never experienced anything quite like the coronavirus.

“COVID has quite frankly been a pain for everybody, for healthcare, and everybody out there,” said Vargas. “It’s crazy the way this thing just spreads.”

Since the outbreak, LifeNet has developed new safety protocols and procedures, such as using masks and personal protective equipment or PPE.

“We can be on a car accident, a scene flight, and show up and take care of a patient, take them to the hospital and they will test positive for COVID later,” Vargas said. “If our crew does not take standard precautions with that patient then they ultimately will be quarantined until they can be proven to be negative as well.”

LifeNet has continued to transport and care for the most critically ill, while also protecting themselves on the front lines.

“Previously, you’d get a flight, you go hop in the helicopter, you go out, you take care of business,” said Vargas. “Now you have to think, ‘Do I have my mask? Do I have my goggles? Do I have my gown? You know, it’s an extra process, an extra checklist you have to go through in your head.”

So far, LifeNet has flown thirteen COVID-19 patients. Vargas anticipates those numbers will increase as cases throughout the state continue to rise.

Vargas is a 2005 North Platte High School graduate. He says he always knew he wanted to help people in some capacity.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army to become a firefighter but was discharged after a year due to an injury. He then enrolled in the EMT Paramedic Program at Mid-Plains Community College through the assistance of the GI Bill.

“It’s been a long journey,' he said. “But when I first went in into the Army and started to learn about combat medicine, I knew that I always wanted to fly, that flight medicine is where I wanted to end up. That was my ultimate goal.”

Vargas says his message to anyone who may be interested in this field is to stick with it. He says its a lot of hard work but promises the reward outweighs the risk.

“That is as high as the paramedic can go,” Vargas said. “It’s kind of the end all pinnacle of the career. You have to be the best of the best to be at the top of the game and that’s kind of where I feel flight medicine is, is at the top of the game.”

Copyright 2020 KNOP. All rights reserved.

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