Carrie Derin was riding an ATV along a dirt path when she hit a fallen tree. It tore through the front of her machine, pierced her abdomen and continued through the back of her seat. When she started losing blood quickly, she packed her wound and waited for ground ambulance to transport her to a STARS helicopter waiting nearby.

The crew knew if Derin didn’t receive blood soon she wouldn’t survive the flight to Regina.

Darcy McKay, clinic operations manager for STARS in Regina will never forget Derin’s mission. “Initially, ground EMS reported very low blood pressure; she had lost a lot of blood,” said McKay. “Carrie needed a blood transfusion to stay alive.”

Before STARS could transport Derin back to Regina, they had to stop at the Arcola Hospital for blood, transfusing her while enroute back to Regina.

Derin’s incident led to a conversation about how STARS could access blood more readily and carry patients to hospital faster.

After months of research, McKay brought the idea of stocking blood on the helicopter to the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region. It would include housing two units of O negative blood in a specialized cooler — a similar concept deployed in the Iraqi war.

On Nov. 6, 2013, STARS in Regina became the first air medical service in Canada to stock blood in advance for life-saving transfusions on air medical missions. STARS’ Saskatoon base followed shortly after. Today, all six bases have implemented the program.

“It is inspiring to see the innovation Saskatchewan demonstrated in providing our citizens this game-changing roadside treatment that very few other services in North America provide,” said Dr. John Froh, transport physician and base medical director for STARS in Saskatoon.

Meanwhile, supporters in Moosomin pioneered a program that is helping reduce STARS’ transport times.

Many towns lie just outside the maximum distance our helicopter can fly without fueling. “A patient from Moosomin would be carried by ground ambulance 16 miles west to Wapella, so STARS didn’t have to refuel,” said Rob Hanson, Moosomin fire chief. “The process added time and complexity to the patient’s transport.”

In October 2013, Moosomin launched the first mobile fuel cache. Through some funding and fundraising, the firefighters purchased a mobile trailer and outfitted it with barrels that can deliver fuel directly to the helicopter. Wadena Fire Chief Harold Narfason says they have the privilege of serving both base helicopters with their fuel cache — one of six now across the province. “We know how important STARS is, especially in rural areas,” said Narfason. “We are very proud to help them out with fueling and landing.”

From signing a 10-year agreement with the Government of Saskatchewan in April 2011 until now, STARS in Saskatchewan has flourished.

“Our organization is very active in this province,” said Andrea Robertson, president and CEO. “We established two bases in less than a year, acquired a third helicopter and new Saskatoon base with the support of PotashCorp, and our team was instrumental in developing an early automated dispatch system for the
province. All in less than three years,” she said.

This past July, STARS sold out the lottery in Saskatchewan for the first time in its four-year history. Since establishing operations in 2012, STARS’ Regina and Saskatoon bases have flown more than 2,200 missions.