Membership has its privileges, and 53-year-old Chandrakant Pranjiwan of Garden City understands that all too well.
After suffering a massive heart attack recently, he was airlifted to a heart hospital in Wichita and underwent surgery.
"About 11 months ago, I had a heart attack and I was air-lifted from St. Catherine to a Wichita heart hospital," Pranjiwan said, referring to his trek via EagleMed at St. Catherine Hospital.
At that time, EagleMed's helicopter had only been available for about a month, fortunate timing for Pranjiwan.
"What happened was, unfortunately, there were two people, at the same time having heart attacks. So one had to be airlifted and the other had to be flown to the airport and to be airlifted from there," he said. "I was quite lucky that I came first with the helicopter so I was airlifted out."
Pranjiwan underwent surgery the following morning and was released from the hospital two weeks later, but he credits his survival to the EagleMed helicopter and its crew. He said that the flight to Wichita took about 40 minutes.
"Your life is safe. They put you there at the other hospital and within minutes you are right into the hospital," he said. "It's like a mini-hospital flying you in the air. I say, 'God was taking me there — the people of God were taking me to save my life.'"
The only negative to his experience was that Pranjiwan, who owns the Garden City Inn and is a partner in two other hotels, did not have health insurance, so the life-saving flight he took resulted in a $45,000 bill. He said he has been able to make arrangements to pay it back, but that he is now a member of EagleMed.
"I have taken a five-year plan of $275," he said.
This comes to about $55 per year and covers his whole family in the event they need air medical services.
"In case you have an accident on the road, they take care of that, too," he said.
Having an EagleMed membership does not trump non-member emergencies. It is simply a way for members to save on the cost of those air medical services.
EagleMed Chief Flight Nurse Jared Bogard said that the reason the cost of membership is so low is because of the large number of members in the program.
"We're the largest membership program in the country," Bogard said.
Wichita-based EagleMed is part of the AirMed Care Network, an alliance between EagleMed, Air Evac Lifeteam and Med-Trans Air Medical Transport, which together form the nation's largest air ambulance membership network.
Bogard said that the alliance has about 1.2 million members.
"The benefit of the membership is we will bill your private insurance company — Medicare, Medicaid ... and then whatever is left over, we write off," he said, adding that proof of health insurance is not a prerequisite to membership.
"We charge everybody $50 or $60. Might not seem like much, but multiply that by a million and it allows us to be able to write things off like that," Bogard said. "It's very reasonable. It's a trip to the gas pump."
He said that 90 percent of people who have memberships never utilize the services.
"So for $50, you've bought yourself good health," he said.
The EagleMed helicopter crew consists of a pilot, a paramedic and a nurse, available 24 hours a day. The helicopter contains everything found in a hospital's ICU, including IV supplies, cardiac monitors, defibrillators, and about 200 medications.
"Ventilators, anything you would find in the ICU of St Catherine's or the emergency department at St. Catherine's, we have," Bogard said. "We also are in constant contact with our medical controllers, who are physicians. They are emergency room physicians, primarily, so if we have a question, we're equipped with a satellite phone and a variety of radios that we can just call them up and consult them if we need to."
EagleMed celebrated its one-year anniversary in Garden City Thursday, but Bogard said that many people are unaware of the services provided.
"We provide a high level of critical care medicine to our patients, and to be able to potentially get that for a $50 investment per year, I think that's an important thing for people to know about," he said. "To have that available to the greater southwest Kansas community, I think, is something pretty special. ... I think that's the coolest thing."
Pranjiwan said he encourages everyone in southwest Kansas to take advantage of the service.
"They have the program, make use of it. In the future, it will help. Then you don't have to regret, like me, what I went through," Pranjiwan said.
For more information on EagleMed and its services, call Marty Mitchell at (918) 606-9622 or visit www.flyeaglemed.com.