Coast Guard flight paramedic provides higher level of care in Alaska

Wearing a bright orange drysuit and large blue helmet while carrying gear that looks to weigh twice as much as she does, a small-framed, 5-foot coastguardsman rushes to the waiting helicopter. She throws her gear in and takes her seat amongst the rest of the crew. Though not in her job description, she prepares to take flight on a search and rescue case in the last frontier.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Christine Parham, a health services technician at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, reestablished the Aviation Mission Specialist program at the air station. She worked with the Air Station’s duty flight surgeons to create a new syllabus that would allow non-aircrew members to be designated on aircraft. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Steenson

Petty Officer 2nd Class Christine Parham, a health services technician at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, reestablished the Aviation Mission Specialist program at the air station. She worked with the Air Station’s duty flight surgeons to create a new syllabus that would allow non-aircrew members to be designated on aircraft. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Steenson

Petty Officer 2nd Class Christine Parham, a health services technician at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, is one of the few paramedics in the Coast Guard. After joining in 2013 and training in Cape May, New Jersey, Parham begged to come to Kodiak to be an Aviation Mission Specialist.

“I got here and there wasn’t really an AMS program established,” said Parham, recalling that it was not what she had expected. “It looked like there were remnants of a program; there was a bag and some meds.”

Parham worked tirelessly to make her dreams of being an AMS a reality by reestablishing the program. She worked with the Air Station’s duty flight surgeons to create a new syllabus that would allow non-aircrew members to be designated on aircraft. Once she completed the syllabus, the Air Station allowed her to use her paramedic qualifications to provide additional medical care during medevacs.

“I wanted to be a part of the Coast Guard’s mission, saving people in remote areas of Alaska,” said Parham. “If the Coast Guard doesn’t go get some of these people, no one’s going out there to get them.”

Many of the villages in Alaska do not have advanced medical care or places for commercial medical flights to land. Along with non-maritime medical transfers, Air Station crews conduct medevacs covering the northern Pacific Ocean, Bering Strait and Gulf of Alaska.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Christine Parham, a health services technician at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, looks out the door of an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a training flight in Kodiak, May 11, 2017. Parham is designated as a flight corpsman through the Aviation Mission Specialist program. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Manning

Petty Officer 2nd Class Christine Parham, a health services technician at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, looks out the door of an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a training flight in Kodiak, May 11, 2017. Parham is designated as a flight corpsman through the Aviation Mission Specialist program. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Manning

“If we were to send out a basic search and rescue helicopter crew with just the rescue swimmer, we are limited in what that particular crew capability brings to the patient,” Said Capt. Mark Morin, Air Station Kodiak commanding officer. “With Christine in the helicopter, we are able to maintain or increase the level of care and get them to the nearest hospital.”

As a paramedic Christine is able to administer medications, intubate and give IVs. In order to maintain her qualification as a nationally registered paramedic, though not required for the AMS program, Christine must complete yearly training. This requires her to pay out of pocket for travel and course fees.

While Parham’s skills are a unique asset for the Air Station, the position does not come without challenges. Due to her primary responsibilities at the clinic, most of her work as an AMS and in support of the AMS program has been done after clinic hours.

“It’s challenging to work for two commands; it requires a lot of cooperation and flexibility from both units,” said Parham. “I have to make sure that I am taking care of my responsibilities on both ends and not letting one fall short while the other is thriving.”

As the only qualified AMS corpsman at the Air Station over an extended period of time, Parham tirelessly stood back-to-back duty flight rotations. Her workdays consisted of performing duties at the clinic until 4 p.m. and then reporting to the Air Station for the weather and crew briefs.

“It requires a lot from the member and I can’t expect one AMS to be available all the time,” said Morin. “I think the opportunity is there for us build the program and currently we have two qualified AMS and three or four more going through the syllabus.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Christine Parham earned the MH-60 Jayhawk Perchard Award and is recognized for excelling as an aviation mission specialist-corpsman who demonstrated exceptional perseverance in pursuit of the AMS qualification by devoting significant personal time afterhours to complete the demanding syllabus. As the only qualified AMS corpsman at Air Station Kodiak for a lengthy period of time, Parham tirelessly stood back-to-back duties.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Christine Parham earned the MH-60 Jayhawk Perchard Award and is recognized for excelling as an aviation mission specialist-corpsman who demonstrated exceptional perseverance in pursuit of the AMS qualification by devoting significant personal time afterhours to complete the demanding syllabus. As the only qualified AMS corpsman at Air Station Kodiak for a lengthy period of time, Parham tirelessly stood back-to-back duties.

Parham is finishing her enlistment this summer but has left behind a platform for a successful AMS program at Air Station Kodiak. Due to her efforts, she received a Perchard Award citing her devotion and expertise. The Perchard Award is a crew-selected aviation award that recognizes members for their exemplary performance and superior technical, aviation, professional and leadership abilities.

“For Christine to receive the Perchard award says a lot about her as a person and as a professional,” said Morin. “It highlights the value that she brings to the air station and her acceptance as part of the crew.”

As an AMS corpsman, Parham has flown over 300 hours and 40 cases. She has saved the lives of injured boaters, victims of car accidents and even newborn babies. Though she can never be replaced, she has left a legacy at Air Station Kodiak by creating a program that will continue to save lives in Alaska.

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