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Fireman injured in Afono crash medivaced to New Zealand ICU

Ground crew and medical personnel on the tarmac at the Pago Pago International Airport

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA —Injured fireman, Ta'ita'ifono "Tinei” Igafo was medivaced to a New Zealand hospital Wednesday afternoon.

ASG Medicaid Office director Sandra King-Young told Samoa News yesterday that Igafo was admitted around midnight (Thursday in New Zealand) at the ICU at Christchurch medical center, which is only the second hospital that has a Spinal Injuries Center.

Igafo was one of the two firefighters who survived last week’s fire truck crash on the Afono road that claimed the lives of two other firemen.

In a public posting on the agency’s Facebook page, King-Young expressed thanks to many people for their support, guidance and collaboration over the past few days to help Medicaid refer and transport Igafo to Christchurch Hospital.

She thanked, ASG Coronavirus Task Force chairman, Iulogologo Joe Pereira and members — LBJ Medical Center CEO Faumuina John Faumuina, Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua and Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele — for their collaboration to allow the air ambulance into the territory.

“This was by far the most challenging case we have dealt with in transferring a patient, especially under the cloud and restriction of the coronavirus pandemic,” she said. “The hurdles we had to overcome with federal cabotage laws, foreign government requirements and coronavirus restrictions were overwhelming.”

“But this mission would not have been achieved for the sake of the patient —without all of your support and hand in always moving us forward to the next step,” she said. “For that, on behalf of the Medicaid office, I wanted to express my sincerest gratitude and thanks to all of the people for an extraordinary job well done.

Special thanks went out to New Zealand Air Ambulance Services provider and Dr. Shay McGuinnes, NZAAS Medicaid Director, who advocated tirelessly all the way up to the New Zealand  Prime Minister's office and the New Zealand Director General of Health and “who advised me on navigating that environment — that led to the reversal of patient denial and subsequent acceptance in New Zealand of our patient late in the night,” she said.

She is extremely grateful to Dr. Akapusi Ledua, Dr. Patrick Murray and Dr. Ronald Kuroda of Queens Medical Center in Honolulu for accepting Igafo into Queens.

“Although our patient did not go to Queens because of the challenges posed by federal aviation laws, this case has given us the opportunity to work with Queens on future referrals for our territory,” she said. (She is referring to the challenges of having a foreign provider — New Zealand Air Ambulance to transport Igafo to Honolulu.)

“This case has highlighted the challenges we face with cabotage laws, health care access and air ambulance services in the Pacific,” she said, adding that Igafo expresses his thanks “and has given our Medicaid agency his consent to use his case to help our Medicaid agency educate the public policy makers on the need for common sense access to health care services. This does not mean we can discuss his medical care, just the process and challenges.”

She expressed sincere thanks to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga for his commitment, efforts and constant guidance to ensure that “we had all the support to help this young man receive the medical attention he needed. Thank you Governor.”

Also special thanks to all the supporting personnel on the ground who did the work quietly behind the scenes to make this happen.