OWLS HEAD, Maine — Bonnie Beaulieu remembers all too well watching as a LifeFlight helicopter lifted off from the hospital in Presque Isle carrying her infant son, who had stopped breathing because of a rare respiratory infection.
For the roughly 1,500 critically injured or seriously ill people transported by LifeFlight every year, the nurses, paramedics and pilots on board the emergency helicopters can mean literally the difference between life and death.
But to Bonnie and David Beaulieu, the crew that helped save little 1-year-old Evan that day six years ago might as well be angels.
“We can’t even explain our appreciation to them,” Beaulieu said.
On Sunday, the Beaulieus and dozens of others like them got that chance during LifeFlight’s first Pediatric Patient Celebration.
The event, held at the Owls Head Transportation Museum, brought together former child patients, their families and many of the crew members and support staff for LifeFlight.
Thomas Judge, executive director of both LifeFlight and the LifeFlight Foundation, said the celebration stems from the recognition that it often takes families time to heal emotionally from the traumatic events that precipitated the need to involve his crew. Sometimes families can heal faster when they heal together with others who experienced similar situations.
“While we treat a single patient at a time, helping that family is actually a big part of our job,” Judge said.
But Sunday’s celebration was also for LifeFlight crew members.
“The other side of it is we are going through these tough events with people and we don’t always know what happens down the road,” Judge said. “With critically injured or ill children, these are very emotional events for everyone, including us.”
Since its establishment in 1998, LifeFlight has treated roughly 12,000 patients, about 2,000 of which were pediatric cases. The two helicopters show up at hospitals as well as on-scene emergencies throughout the state.
Lifeflight is a nonprofit organization jointly operated by Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and Central Maine Healthcare Corp.
Sunday’s dreary spring weather put a damper on some of the celebrations.
Organizers had hoped to have at least one of the two helicopters on-site to allow children and families to see the machines on better terms. But because of heavy rains, thick fog and concern about getting stuck in Owls Head for several days in the unpredictable coastal weather, neither copter was able make it.
But the children didn’t seem to mind as they played with balloon animals supplied by several clowns, had their faces painted and enjoyed burgers, hot dogs and cake. The children added their handprints to a mural and special notes of thanks to LifeFlight staff in a journal.
Among those in attendance were Beth and Lauren Lamberson of North Yarmouth, who had their own LifeFlight experience in August 2007.
Four members of the Lamberson family were in a floatplane that crash-landed into Kezar Lake in August 2007, killing the pilot. Three of the family members managed to escape the sunken plane and swim to the surface, but Lauren Lamberson, then 5, did not.
Donning a pair of goggles, Beth managed to dive down and free her daughter from the wreckage, but Lauren had to be resuscitated after several minutes underwater.
Beth Lamberson was allowed to accompany her daughter in the helicopter as LifeFlight crews cared for Lauren, who suffered no long-term aftereffects from the incident. Since then, Beth Lamberson has been an active volunteer and fundraiser for LifeFlight.
“They took such good care of me and I wasn’t even the patient,” she said, recalling that day nearly four years ago. “We have been involved with LifeFlight ever since.”
In addition to time and money, the Lambersons have given back to LifeFlight in another way.
Beth Lamberson and her son were invited to give a presentation to LifeFlight staff about how they escaped from a submerged aircraft, lessons that one day could help the rescuers rescue themselves.