Dec 04, 2013 8:00 AM

Author: Marissa Villasenor


It’s 6:45 a.m. at University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. Doctors, nurses and hospital staff trickle into the lobby of the medical center to begin their day. Across town at Salt Lake International Airport, AirMed’s overnight flight crew is boarding an EC-145 helicopter with an obstetrics patient they flew in on a fixed-wing plane from Elko, Nev.

“ETA is 10 minutes,” a portable radio hooked to the waist of a flight paramedic bellows out. Two of the six-member AirMed ground crew immediately head up to the hospital’s helipad. At 7:40 the helicopter arrives with the patient. As the flight staff takes the patient from the helicopter, the sensitive nature of her condition is apparent. “Hang tight. Just a few bumps, honey,” says a flight nurse as they wheel the patient from the top of the helipad to the emergency room. The woman’s pain is obvious in her facial expressions. But with the nurse’s simple words of comfort the woman’s body relaxes as she enters an unknown, worrisome situation.

Once the patient is in the care of emergency room physicians, the AirMed staff head back up to the helipad to restock the helicopter for their next call- whenever and wherever it may be.

One hour later, AirMed is flying another patient to the hospital. “We have a patient coming from Payson,” says a flight paramedic. This patient arrives on a second helicopter with staff from the AirMed base in Payson, Utah. “We love our job,” yells a flight nurse as he skips out of the helipad’s elevator. The excitement in his voice compliments his jubilant walk to the helicopter where he helps lift the man onto a motorized cart that they drive into the emergency room.  Another 20 minutes pass and finally the crew has a chance to breathe.

At 9:10 a.m. the crew huddles in the team’s “ready room” for their morning briefing.  Located on the lower level of the hospital, the “ready room” is equipped with beds, a small kitchen and bathroom. It’s the AirMed crew’s home away from home. “We spend a lot of time in this room,” says a flight nurse.  The morning briefing is detailed and covers critical information from the overnight team and housekeeping announcements. Holding a clipboard with a list of topics, the dayside pilot leads the meeting.  “How is everyone feeling?” he asks. The mutual respect and care for one another is obvious among the team members. “Is anyone sick or congested? I don’t want any eardrums bursting today.”

“You start your shift the day before,” says the veteran pilot. “You need to get yourself mentally ready to bring your A-game.” That is a clear message echoed throughout the day.

AirMed is University of Utah Health’s air medical transport program. Since 1972 the team of men and woman have taken to the skies of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Montana to provide residents of the Intermountain West with the best care. With more than 40 years of experience, AirMed comprises a state-of-the art fleet, with five helicopters, two airplanes, and the industry’s best and brightest flight nurses, paramedics and pilots.

Most people recognize AirMed through its response to countless Utah car wrecks, emergencies and backcountry rescues. But AirMed is more than just an emergency response team. It is made up of selfless people who dedicate their lives to serving others. One of them is Janie Ford.

“I’m very fortunate,” says Ford, an eight-year flight nurse. “You don’t have to motivate me to do my job.”

Ford vividly remembers every call. When asked about a tragic accident in the winter of 2012, she mentally drifts back to a snowy hilltop and describes how she and the AirMed team dug and plowed through waist-high snow to reach the victims of a snow slide. “I just knew we couldn’t give up. The family wasn’t ready to give up, so we weren’t either,” she says. “At that moment you are a part of someone’s memory, someone’s life.”

Ford isn’t the only AirMed member with such passion. That same dedication thrives in all 106 members. Along with everyday emergencies, the AirMed team specializes in high-risk obstetrics cases and neonatology. The team recently presented about a highly unusual case at the annual Association of Air Medical Services conference. The team had helped save an obstetrics patient who suffered a placental abruption and amniotic fluid embolism. The patient is reportedly the only known survivor of this problem in the United States.

No one wants to find him or herself onboard AirMed, but those who do are lucky. They’re in good hands.


Marissa Villasenor

Marissa Villasenor is a public relations specialist at University of Utah Health Care. Follow her on Twitter: @Marivillasenor

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