It was May 1984. A 70-year-old woman critically injured in a car accident in Santa Cruz County became Stanford Life Flight's inaugural mission. With that flight, Life Flight became the first helicopter emergency services program in the Bay Area; and Stanford Hospital & Clinics became the first medical center in this region to have its own helicopter and air medical transport team.
Thirty years and many thousands of flights later, Life Flight has a proud history to celebrate this month. It has a flight crew with years of experience whose attitudes explain why Life Flight is still going strong. A number of the flight nurses have been on board for years, even decades. "We are always moving forward," said David Bevin, RN, a twenty year veteran. "There is always some new technology."
To be considered for this crew requires not only years of experience, but also many clinical qualifications and solid interpersonal skills. Life Flight nurses maintain their expertise through ongoing training and continuing education. Most of the nurses have advanced certifications in flight nursing and critical care specialties, and several have graduate degrees. Flight nurses also assist when needed with trauma alerts in the Emergency Department and help in the intensive care units with advanced procedures, such as arterial lines and intubations.
"It's a very collaborative, team-centered approach," said Geralyn Martinez, RN, a Life Flight nurse since 1990. "Our job has evolved greatly over the years."
That technology Bevin mentioned touches almost every part of what Life Flight does. It now has a faster, larger helicopter than its first model with medical equipment that is compact, lightweight and rugged. Stanford Life Flight is the only flight program in Northern California to be able to transport critically ill cardiac patients who need advanced equipment such as an intra-aortic balloon pump. Its helicopter is equipped with instrument-aided flight capability to make transport in inclement weather safer. The crew also wear night vision goggles for all nighttime flights to aid visibility and improve safety.
"Stanford has always been regarded as one of the premier programs in the state, if not the country," said Life Flight's program manager Michael Baulch, RN, JD. "We've seen the technology change over time but Stanford has kept its focus on safety and on the best use of this very expensive asset."
Beneath all the technology and specialized training, however, remains the power of a calming voice. "A patient wrote me a very nice letter to say thanks," Bevin said, "because I leaned over her and said, 'You're going to be okay. You're hurting a bit, but you're going to make it to Stanford." Stanford Life Flight looks forward to celebrating many future anniversaries and helping patients and communities for generations to come.