There’s a yellow helicopter, the Lifeliner 1, parked on the roof of the VU medical center in Amsterdam. VUmc was the first hospital in the Netherlands with a helicopter and a Mobile Medical Team (MMT). They’ve been saving people’s lives for 23 years now. Fenny Dunning, chief nurse, and Marcel de Leeuw, chief doctor and medical coordinator, tell me the story behind this special team.

“The Mobile Medical Team was set up in 1995 as an addition to the existing ambulance service”, Marcel says. “Nowadays, the VUmc MMT turns out nine or ten times every day – that’s around 3,500 times per year! Our MMT is responsible for the northwestern part of the Netherlands.”

Fenny Dunning and Marcel de Leeuw

Medical teams

There are four Mobile Medical Teams in the Netherlands: in Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Groningen and Rotterdam. Every MMT has a helicopter and a fast Audi. “We’re on standby 24/7, working in two groups with ten nurses, thirteen doctors, thirteen drivers and six pilots”, Fenny explains.

Fenny: “People call 112 to report a serious accident or violent crime. The operator decides who is going to be sent out: police, ambulance or fire brigade. If the accident is very serious, then a few ambulances and the MMT will rush to the scene. The MMT is usually involved because we have a trauma doctor and an ambulance doesn’t. The faster the doctor can get to the victims, the higher the chance of survival. Within two minutes of the call we’re on the road, we get the details of the accident when we’re in the helicopter or the car.”

“The VUmc Mobile Medical Team turns out nine or tine times a day”

The MMT must try to get the trauma doctor to the victim as quickly as possible. “The so-called ‘golden hour’, the first hour after the accident, is of vital importance. The faster we can act, the better chance we have to save the victim. If necessary, we can carry out invasive interventions at the scene of the accident”, Marcel explains.

“This means that we can open a rib cage if someone has a collapsed lung, administer an anaesthetic, start invasive artificial respiration or give a blood transfusion. First, we stabilize the vital body functions and then we take the patient back to hospital, mostly by ambulance. Airlifting the patient happens very rarely because flying has its disadvantages: there’s no room for treatment and the time gain is marginal. And not every hospital has its own landing platform. In our region, most hospitals are easily accessible by car. So our doctor usually treats the victim inside the ambulance on their way to a trauma hospital.”

“We can really make a difference. We’re saving lives, that’s why we do this.”

Rotors or wheels?

Time is crucial. One would think the fastest way is to transport doctors and nurses by helicopter, but that’s not always the case. Fenny: “Depending on the location and the distance we need to cover we decide: rotors or wheels. In case of an accident at the beach, the helicopter will take us there faster, but within the Amsterdam ring-road it is better to take the car. And the weather is also a factor. If we can’t fly because of strong winds or poor visibility, then there’s no other option but to take the car.

Fenny Dunning

Suddenly several beepers go off. The men jump up and start packing bags. It appears a child has fallen out of a window. Given the location they decide to take the car and drive to the scene of the accident. Pressure is mounting. They make a dash for the elevator, jump into the car, switch on the sirens and they’re out of sight – in less than 2 minutes. One can sense how driven and well-organized this team is.

When every second counts

“Yes, we’re proud of what we do together”, Marcel confirms. “Over the years we’ve developed into a real team; these people feel like family. We can really make the difference, saving people’s lives. That’s why we do this. Together, as a team – we’re part of a chain consisting of the fire brigade, the ambulance service, the police and us, the Mobile Medical Team. Our strength lies in our level of cooperation. And I think we should be really proud of that.”

Less than half hour after the members of the MMT rushed out they come back. Thankfully, the accident wasn’t too serious. The child is fine.

YouTube video is in dutch!

Photocredit of main picture: The MMT, left to right: Marcel de Leeuw (chief doctor and medical coordinator), Martijn  Hoeksema (anaesthesiologist-intensivist), Hendrik de Vries (HEMS crew member) and Jorg Langenhorst (pilot Lifeliner 1 trauma helicopter) CREDIT: CAROLINE VLIESTRA