Volcanic ash clouds disrupt medical air travel in Aleutians
Ash clouds from two volcanoes have disrupted air travel in the Aleutians, including Unalaska, preventing some patients from reaching medical care in Anchorage.
Dr. Murray Buttner is the medical director for Unalaska’s Iliuliuk Family and Health Services. He said there are several patients on the island unable to reach Anchorage for acute medical treatment.
“There's an individual who burned both of their hands. There's a woman who’s starting to have signs that she might be going into labor. There's a child that needs to be admitted to a hospital,” he said. “Yesterday, we had someone who had some internal bleeding and really needed to get to [Anchorage].”
The health center is Unalaska’s primary health care provider and offers lots of medical and emergency services, but lacks some of the resources of a full hospital, such as birthing units or access to large amounts of donor blood.
Buttner said the clinic was waiting on a medevac from the U.S. Coast Guard when the airspace was shut down due to ash clouds from Mount Shishaldin in the Aleutians and Klyuchevskoy Volcano in Russia.
“They were going to take two of our patients, the one with the bleed and one of the others,” he said. “But then when we got the patients out to the airport, the Coast Guard [made] an update on the two volcanoes. They were unable to take them.”
While hospital care in Anchorage is the first choice for patients requiring acute treatment, Buttner said the local clinic is able to adapt to certain emergency situations.
“LifeMed does have blood here, two units of blood,” Buttner said. “They helped us through the whole process and gave the patient the blood, which he really needed. That individual is doing much, much better this morning, and we are just waiting to see how we can get him up to Anchorage.”
The Anchorage Volcanic Ash Advisory Center said the two clouds were dissipating, but more ashfall from Klyuchevskoy is making its way over the region.
As of Friday evening, all patients were stabilized and waiting for air travel to resume.