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Making the World Safer to Fly

The next time you’re in your private jet, or even if you have to suffer the indignity of flying commercially, …

The next time you’re in your private jet, or even if you have to suffer the indignity of flying commercially, look for the word “MedLink” posted somewhere on the flight deck. For therein lies a tale.

Joan Sullivan Garrett, an emergency air nurse who was galvanized by the death of an eight-year-old boy in her arms after an auto accident, launched a company called MedAire some 20 years ago in the Phoenix area. She wanted to make sure that both private and commercial airplanes were equipped with the right sorts of medical kits and were linked, via the MedLink 24-hour communications service, to doctors on the ground who can advise crew or passengers on how to respond to emergencies. “My background in flight nursing gave me the insight that there was a need for a level of support that didn’t exist,” Garrett says. “It really solidified my understanding of what was really needed in remote environments.”

As nurse-turned-entrepreneur, Garrett acquired a company in a similar line of business in Australia and earned a listing on the Australian Stock Exchange. Now, with sales of $29 million expected this year,

MedAire is aiming for a launch on a major U.S. stock exchange in 2006. “I look at the time on the Australian Stock Exchange as a kind of teething in preparation for what comes next,” she says.

MedAire services more than 850 corporate jet fleets and more than 2,000 corporate and private jets, as well as 84 airlines. “We will get a call from CEOs in aircraft or hotels with a concern or a problem,”

Garrett explains. “We understand the rigors of international travel. You can’t wait until you get home to have your problem solved. Maybe it’s something as simple as they dropped their eyeglasses or need a prescription filled.”

But it can also be more serious. The most common onboard ailments are fainting, stomach upsets and respiratory problems, but travelers also experience kidney stone and heart ailments while up in the air. Either crew or passengers with medical backgrounds can get expert advice from

the doctors in Arizona, who know precisely what equipment and medications are in the onboard medical kits.

So far this year, the company has handled 26,582 in-flight medical emergencies, 5 percent of which were serious enough to divert the plane. About 50 people die on planes each year.

The MedLink doctors can speak 144 languages. MedAire has offices in Britain, China, Thailand and Indonesia, but its services reach every country. “We can truly manage medical events anywhere in the world,” Garrett says.

She acknowledges that it’s been a “huge learning curve” for her to emerge as a CEO. “You just have to step up to the plate,” she says. “It’s my responsibility to learn and to surround myself with very talented people. It’s my job to be the visionary for the company, to see where we’re going.” As a result, everyone is a bit safer in the air.

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