Freedom to Be Healthy: A Story of Heroism

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Freedom to Be Healthy: A Story of Heroism


By: Governor Kristi Noem

January 19, 2024


In South Dakota, we value living a healthy life, no matter where you live. Every South Dakotan should have the Freedom to live where they want – but they shouldn’t have to choose between a rural way of life and good health outcomes.


In our rural communities, emergency responders are sometimes the only local healthcare providers. Growing up on a rural farm, we always knew that emergency services were our closest healthcare lifeline. And when my dad had a tragic accident, EMS personnel showed up. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to save him – but I saw firsthand how hard they work, how much they care, and how dedicated they are to serving the people of South Dakota.


My Department of Health has been working to advance EMS access across our state to ensure that every South Dakotan has the Freedom to Be Healthy. We put brand new state-of-the-art LIFEPAK 15s in the back of ambulances, we worked with Indian Health Services to get these devices to ambulance crews in Eagle Butte and Pine Ridge, and we just completed a comprehensive analysis of the current state of EMS in South Dakota to learn how we can best continue to expand these services.


South Dakota was the first state in the nation to implement Telemedicine in Motion. We use telemedicine to connect physicians, nurses, and paramedics with EMS personnel in the field. Nearly 60 ambulance services throughout the state have installed Telemedicine in Motion – and it is saving lives.


One of the first major calls to Telemedicine in Motion came last December. Jim Lutter, rancher from Gann Valley, was out caring for his buffalo when he was attacked by one of his animals. His injuries were life threatening – dozens of injuries from the horns and hooves of the animal, multiple broken ribs, lungs filling with blood, broken neck, and more.


After pulling himself into a front-loader and driving back home for help, Jim was picked up by the local EMS agency who connected with the Avel team via telemedicine. A board-certified physician and nurses were on camera to help stabilize the rancher, coordinate with the receiving hospital, and activate the care flight team to expedite the transfer of the patient to Sioux Falls.


Once the EMS crew arrived at the hospital, Avel maintained their support of the patient since Avel Emergency was installed in the hospital’s ER. After Jim recovered, he shared feedback with the care team, saying, “they held my life in their hands and gave it back to me, something that I will be forever grateful for.”


It was my privilege to honor Ed Koenechne, Dr. Katie DeJong, and nurse Casie Hunter, the team that saved Jim’s life, with the Governor’s Award for Heroism during my State of the State Address. Ed is a volunteer with Kimball Ambulance Services, and Dr. Katie and nurse Casie are on the Avel team. Together, thanks to telemedicine, they took incredible action to save Jim’s life.


I am proud that folks who choose to live in remote parts of the state can sleep a little easier at night thanks to our EMS expansion efforts like Telemedicine in Motion. Thank you to all of our healthcare providers for giving every South Dakotan the Freedom to Be Healthy.