On a spring evening in 2021, Meaghan McFarland left her apartment in Layton for a walk with her dog.
She never saw the Ford F350 speeding toward her at 50 miles per hour. She only remembers waking up in an ambulance and telling someone, again and again, that her kids were at home. Alone.
When she finally returned to her apartment, 26 days later, she could no longer walk. More than half the bones in her body had been broken by the impact.
More than a year later, the 34-year-old Army veteran continues to heal, but she remains grateful to the AirMed rescuers who flew her to University of Utah Hospital that night. So grateful, in fact, that she recently decided to thank them in person.
“Everyone looks at the military like they’re heroes,” McFarland told her rescuers. “Even heroes need heroes—that’s what you guys are.”
Minutes after the accident, an ambulance rushed McFarland to Davis Hospital and Medical Center where AirMed waited. The flight team opened up the back of the ambulance, received a quick report and worked in sync to quickly carry McFarland to the helicopter.
It was already running and ready to go.
“Time is currency,” said Brandi Barber, the flight nurse who helped care for McFarland that night. “In very few cases do you spend it on scene—it’s much better spent getting to the Level 1 Trauma Center as fast as possible.”
As a soldier in the 19th Special Forces Group, McFarland had returned from Afghanistan only a few months before. During her career, she had jumped out of helicopters many times in training. So the pulsing roar of the helicopter comforted her as they flew to Salt Lake City—a trip she’d never expected.
The team inside the helicopter didn’t know exactly how badly McFarland was hurt, but after 15 years as a flight paramedic, Jim Stoof could tell the situation was serious.
"She is a stoic, tough person,” he said. “She’s very active and physically fit. I think that had a huge part in her survival and recovery.”
McFarland hadn’t just been sitting at a desk during her three tours—one in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. During her deployments, she worked out twice a day—often with the male soldiers.
“I was one of the few females they enjoyed working out with because I could work out at their level,” she recalled.
This summer, 16 months after the accident, the 5’2’ veteran couldn’t carry anything heavier than five pounds. Doctors worried her damaged collarbone would snap.
She’s learning to manage her chronic pain, and she can walk—even though she can’t feel her right leg. Her second shoulder reconstruction took place this fall.
McFarland has forgotten most of her rescue and even her career, a result of the accident and an untreated traumatic brain injury she sustained in training years ago.
But she knows she loved serving her country. At 13, McFarland saw a Veteran’s Day parade. The soldiers, the sense of patriotism, the idea of being part of something bigger than herself made a huge impression. So, at 17, she joined the Army and began a career that took her around the world.
Now, she’s grounded.
“I went from 100 miles per hour and a fulfilling career to being home,” said McFarland, who is a mother of two girls ages 15 and 11 years old. “I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have the thought of my kids to look forward to.”
When McFarland met her AirMed rescuers this summer, they finally learned how badly she had been hurt and how hard the road to recovery has been.
“When we transport people, we know their life is going to be different than what it was,” Stoof said.
Only after Barber joined AirMed as a flight nurse did she realize how much more there was to learn. The job keeps them humble.
Not only are the medical staff responsible for the care of the patient, they also help check the helicopter while looking for aircraft and other obstacles.
But they understand why few patients would reconnect with AirMed after their rescue.
“I think it’s a situation a lot of people don’t want to relive,” Stoof said. “I don’t expect people to reach out, but when they do—it’s really meaningful.”
McFarland wanted to make sure AirMed knew how important it is. The team’s choice of career had affected her life forever.
“If they ever questioned if their decision mattered to another person, I wanted them to know it did,” she said.