The Gazette: Life Saver: Mercyhealth Marks Five Years with MD1 Program

JANESVILLE – First responders thought Mike Ehlers was dead when they arrived at the scene of a crash in 2016.

Ehlers’ car had hit the rear of a school bus on Highway 14, crushing his body and vehicle underneath the bus.

Before the MD-1 program came to Mercyhealth, Ehlers said he probably would have died at the scene.

Since MD-1 started in 2013, Rock County first responders have seen an increase in on-scene resuscitation and more cases of cardiac arrest survival, said Dr. Jay MacNeal, director of emergency medicine at Mercyhealth.

“When the officer did a 360 around the vehicle, he stuck his head in the window, and I said hello,” Ehlers recalled in an interview. The officer then yelled, “We need to get him out now! He is alive!”

The MD-1 physician gave Ehlers ketamine to keep him unconscious while he was extracted from his car.

Happy birthday, MD-1

As MacNeal held the cake for a photo at Mercyhealth’s five-year celebration of MD-1 on Thursday, he noted the cake-cutting experience he has gained at birthday parties for his four children.

The MD-1 program is like MacNeal’s fifth child. He was instrumental in bringing it to Mercyhealth and has watched it grow over the last five years.

He even designed MD-1’s sport utility vehicles, right down to the color of their antennas.

MacNeal worked in emergency field vehicles during a fellowship at Yale University, and they inspired him to create MD-1. The program has standardized training and protocol for EMS organizations across its coverage area, MacNeal said, making it easier for first responders from different communities to work together.

What is MD-1?

The MD-1 program consists of seven physicians and seven vehicles across Rock and Walworth counties and Winnebago County in Illinois, MacNeal said.

Unlike ambulances, MD-1 vehicles do not transport patients. The units are called whenever first responders need additional or advanced help on the scene of an emergency, he said.

Program physicians are trained in emergency medicine and can provide care that an EMT or paramedic cannot provide.

MD-1 vehicles carry all the equipment of an ambulance and then some, including ultrasound equipment, advanced medications and full radio communication equipment for Illinois and Wisconsin.

The physicians make themselves available to answer questions from first responders and act as a 24-hour resource center in the field. That helps the nearest hospital emergency room because those doctors would otherwise have to answer those questions, MacNeal said.

“(MD-1) takes the knowledge of the field into the hospital and the hospital into the field,” he said.

Care for responders

MD-1’s services are free to patients. Mercyhealth funds the program as a community service, MacNeal said.

Ehlers volunteered as an EMT for the Footville Fire Department for nine years before stepping down for family reasons. He said MD-1 was a “huge help” to him as an EMT, especially in Footville, where the fire department offers only basic services.

Besides helping patients, MD-1 physicians also can evaluate firefighters and first responders on the scene and make them go home or to the hospital when needed, Ehlers said.

That helps emergency responders stay at their jobs longer because they aren’t working to exhaustion, he said.

It also allows people such as Ehlers to continue helping the community.

“(I) always wanted to help people, show up on the day when they’re at their worst and leave without them realizing who I was,” he said.

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