Inside look at Carolinas HealthCare's MedCenter Air helicopter

Saving patients when time is of the essence
Published: Nov. 17, 2017 at 6:14 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2017 at 6:40 AM EST
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Kristen Miranda | WBTV
Kristen Miranda | WBTV

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Heather Helms felt called to serve, and not just anywhere, but thousands of feet in the air.

"This is a dream job for me, knowing I can make a difference," Helms said.

She started her medical career as an EMT but now she's a flight nurse clinical supervisor for Carolinas HealthCare System's MedCenter Air.

"When someone is requiring a helicopter it is because every second matters," Helms said.

That's because that patient, that person, is likely having the worst day of their lives.  The helicopter is used mainly to transport people from emergency situations like car crashes quickly to Carolinas Medical Center.  On average the teams could make 150 flights or more in a month.

The fixed wing planes that the company operates can do longer distance trips, for example, transporting organs for transplant or patients from one hospital to another.  So far in 2017, crews have made 40 life-saving organ transplant trips and have even helped with medical needs in Puerto Rico following the destructive hurricane.

When the medical team gets the call, they jump into action. "We don't always know what we're going to find and we have to be ready for any situation," Helms said.

"The landing zones are varied, to say the least," Martin Fisher, who is the lead pilot of the helicopter, said. "I've landed on highways, bridges, in fields, at high schools."

He explains that there are 13 helicopter pilots, mainly military trained, and 17 fixed wing pilots with civilian and military flying experience who work around the clock.

"Compartmentalization is key in this job. I'm focused on flying the aircraft and the medical team is focused on the patient in the back," Fisher said.

No matter the aircraft, inside the tight space is the equivalent of an entire emergency room.

"I really am impressed with our medical crews they can treat a patient in bad weather, turbulence.  They're putting in an IV while getting knocked around and they do it perfectly," Fisher said.

These teams say they rarely get rattled during a call because they are focused solely on patient care and getting them where they need to go.  It is after a call when the emergency responders can reflect on what happened that they take that moment to consider what they've been through.

This job, though, they say is the best they've had.

"I met a father once and he shook my hand and said 'you transported my son.'  That felt great.  There's no better job satisfaction as a pilot than to have made a difference in someones life," Fisher said.

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