BANGOR, Maine — Ten years ago, angels appeared in the skies over Maine.
The crews of LifeFlight of Maine have been on hand for a decade to help Mainers in medical emergencies, taken some 8,400 people who might not have lived without them, said Tom Judge, LifeFlight’s executive director.
Judge spoke to a gathering of former patients, hospital dignitaries and others at an anniversary celebration Saturday in a parking lot at Eastern Maine Medical Center, home to one of the state’s two LifeFlight helicopters. The other is based at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where a similar celebration was held Friday.
More than 30 LifeFlight pilots, nurses and paramedics, dressed in their green uniforms, lined the edge of the gathering in Bangor, with a green and gold striped helicopter parked in the background.
“Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year … we’ll show up,” Judge said. “Our promise is: If you call us, we will come.”
Gov. John Baldacci was on hand to congratulate the air medical program and announced that the national Association of Air Medical Services has recognized LifeFlight of Maine as this year’s Program of the Year.
“LifeFlight of Maine is the top air medical program [selected] out of 300 air services” nationwide, the governor said.
Judge said that in the past week alone, LifeFlight crews flew some 30 people.
One of those transported was a “4-year-old from Fort Kent, who had to be ventilated,” Paramedic Carl Zenk said Saturday while young children climbed in and out of the helicopter he uses to save people’s lives. “He wouldn’t have made it without us.”
Thousands of stories can be told about LifeFlight of Maine.
Two former patients were at the presentation to tell how LifeFlight services changed their lives. One was an Old Town woman who was pregnant with twins when she was flown to Portland for an emergency Caesarean section, and the other was a St. Albans man who spoke of how LifeFlight saved his nearly severed arm.
Marcy Allen was 32 weeks’ pregnant when “there were complications” that put her twins in fetal distress and required a quick trip to Portland.
“If not for you, these two little boys would not be here to make their mark on the world,” she said.
Her boys, Evan and Trevor, are now 7-year-old second-graders.
Mark Luce told the story of how LifeFlight played a role in saving his right arm, which “was nearly 100 percent amputated” in an industrial accident in 2003.
After seven major surgeries, his arm is “pretty much normal” and allows him to do the things he loves, including fishing, he said.
“My story is less remarkable than their story,” Luce said, pointing to the men and women LifeFlight crew members.
Several hospital dignitaries spoke about the vision that was needed to bring LifeFlight to Maine, and how the partnerships created over the years between medical facilities in Maine, along with police and fire departments, have improved services to residents.
And the job of improving services continues, as the board of directors works to buy night vision goggles, which will allow pilots to respond to more nighttime emergencies.
For the flight crews, the job is both inspiring and challenging, said Zenk, who is based in Bangor and who has 16 years’ experience as an air medic and two with LifeFlight of Maine.
“It’s the best job in the world,” he said. “It’s tough, but at the same time it’s very rewarding.”
Zenk is one of 38 nurses and paramedics who fly with 10 pilots all over the state to save people’s lives.
“We help people who need help the most,” he said.