There are probably few things more frightening than having to rush to the local emergency department for a scary health incident following an accident or a sudden onset of severe illness.
One thing that might be more anxiety-inducing: having to be transported via helicopter to a health care facility.
Most average adults have not experienced flying in a helicopter. Going airborne when having a medical emergency is not something most people would choose to do.
One patient that was in the Nash UNC Emergency Department in August had that scenario play out.
The patient reached out to Nash UNC Health Care to thank them for the great care she received and explained her experience to Nash UNC Health Care Quality Nurse Clinician, Joddy Anderson, who also serves as an EMS liaison.
Anderson said the patient relayed to her she had to be airlifted to UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill to undergo vascular surgery.
“She stated in addition to all the kind and caring emergency department staff she encountered, she shared with me how wonderful the air crew was on Tarheel 4. She said even the pilot checked on her and showed compassion,” Anderson said. “At the time, she was not sure if she would even survive this event. This was her first time flying in a helicopter, but she felt that the Lord sent her the gift of three handsome men to fly her to Chapel Hill.”
The patient went on to recall to Anderson how all three men were extremely caring to her, reassured her she was in good hands and even made sure she could see out the window of the aircraft.
“She said they were highly skilled and helped keep her calm during such a frightening time in her life and for that she will be forever grateful,” Anderson said.
The three handsome men sent to this patient were Garan Warren RN; Jim Phipps, flight paramedic; and Ray Therriault, the helicopter pilot.
The three are part of a team of 21 people that make sure patients in our area of North Carolina have quick, lifesaving transportation. The team is comprised of Nash UNC employees — the medical personnel — and Carolina Air Care employees — the pilots and mechanics. Carolina Air Care, in cooperation with Air Methods Corporation, operates and maintains the helicopters.
In March 2018, UNC Health Care established Nash UNC Health Care as the permanent base site for one of its medical transport helicopters.
A flight crew is available 24/7 to transport patients to and from any hospital in the area. A crew typically consists of three people: A pilot, a specially trained flight nurse and a flight paramedic.
Dameion Rutherford, the flight crew supervisor at Nash UNC, said most trips are about 35 minutes. Most of the patients they transport from Nash UNC go to UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill or Raleigh or sometimes to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville..
Warren said he remembered the patient who relayed her gratitude to Anderson and was glad to hear she was feeling better.
“We do our best to talk to them and help them with their anxiety,” Warren said. “We typically cannot have family fly with us, so for that period of time, we’re their family. And we do what we have to do to make sure we get them where they need to go.”
Phipps, a flight paramedic, said he’s dreamed of incorporating flying into a career since he was a kid.
“I’ve always thought flying in a helicopter or an airplane just made your job cooler,” Phipps said with a smile.
Phipps said he was a paramedic for several years. He eventually started the process to become a flight paramedic, which involves more training and education.
“I love this job because no day is ever the same,” Phipps said. “And I really like taking care of patients. It’s a great feeling, knowing you’re helping to save a person’s life.”
The lifesaving crew transports people from hospital to hospital, as well as answers dispatch calls for transportation from accident locations.
Therriault said piloting a helicopter to a site close to an accident location can be a little tricky.
“Usually the EMS crews will do a good job of finding us a spot and guiding us in,” Therriault said.
Therriault has been a pilot for 26 years and has worked at the Nash UNC location for two years.
“My mom wanted me to be a doctor,” he said with a laugh, “and this is as close as I could get.”
Therriault said for him, there’s no better job than helping save the lives of patients in critical condition.
“These are patients that need help the most, and I like the thought that we’re contributing to getting them the best health care possible,” he said.