University of Pittsburgh

commons room

Rescue World

Written by J.D. Thrasher

A bright red helicopter emblazoned with “London’s Air Ambulance” descends into Trafalgar Square, the epicenter of London. It’s the middle of the afternoon, and hundreds of tourists are viewing sculptures in Britain’s cultural center. On the ground, police struggle to clear space for the aircraft. As soon as the helicopter lands, paramedics—including Pitt student Patrick Lambert—rush toward a boy who’s wedged under a double-decker bus.

While the crew pulls the boy to safety and examines him for wounds, Lambert watches and takes mental notes. He’s an emergency medical technician in the United States, but he’s not certified to care for patients abroad. He’s here to conduct research on helicopter emergency medical services for his undergraduate honors thesis at Pitt. For the project, he’s visiting England, Germany, Qatar, and Canada to shadow emergency flight crews and see how helicopter paramedics perform their jobs in various regions of the world.

Lambert pursued this research during fall 2008 with funding from the University Honors College. When he returned to campus the following spring semester, he delivered a lecture and wrote a thesis about what he learned. He described how he became familiar with advances in medical technology, like a needle chest-decompression device used in Canada. He recounted a case in Qatar in which cultural differences shaped how treatment was administered—a woman suffering from cardiac problems refused to be transported to a hospital until a consenting male arrived.

In his report, Lambert also outlined safety procedures he learned that he would like to employ in the United States. “We don’t know that much about how things are done outside the U.S.,” he says. To share his knowledge, he gave his thesis to Pitt’s Department of Emergency Medicine before earning his 2009 bachelor’s degree from Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Now, he’s aiming to publish academic articles based on his international research. He’s also continuing his work as a paramedic in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County, as well as training to become a pilot so that he can fly medical helicopters, too.

That day in Trafalgar Square, Lambert listened carefully as the British paramedic crew tried to communicate with the injured boy and his family, who were from Eastern Europe and spoke little English. Through a lot of patience and hand gestures, everyone was finally able to understand that, fortunately, the boy didn’t sustain any serious injuries after being dragged several meters by the bus. It was the sort of outcome that had motivated Lambert to become a paramedic. Soon, he was back in the red helicopter as it launched into the London sky, ready for the next mission.