On Monday, LifeFlight of Maine celebrated 20 years of service at a dedication ceremony and open house at the LifeFlight base at the Bangor International Airport.
The event brought together paramedics, pilots, patients and Northern Light Health leaders for a morning to reflect, tour the aircraft, visit the crew and celebrate the program, which has made strides in emergency medical care in the state.
Waterville’s KC Ford was one of the three LifeFlight patients present at the event.
Ford was traveling from Matinicus Isle to Owls Head when the small plane she was flying in crashed in the ocean shortly after takeoff. Ford managed to escape the wreck and was in the water for 45 minutes before being reached by paramedics, including the Matinicus Ambulance and LifeFlight, among others.
As a LifeFlight patient, Ford recognizes the importance the program has in the health care field.
“It is critical for everyone in the state of Maine to have equal access to emergency medicine. They’re there when you need them,” Ford said. “They’re personal and have a quality of kindness that you can’t find everywhere.”
Husson University student Tristan Kaldenburg, who was also a LifeFlight passenger, was traveling back to Bangor from his home in Littleton, Massachusetts, when he was injured in a head-on collision in 2017. Receiving multiple injuries in the crash, including to his ribs, jaw and spleen, Kaldenberg says LifeFlight was instrumental in saving his life.
“It’s a necessity. Without LifeFlight, I would not be here today,” Kaldenberg said. “We need it.”
LifeFlight steering committee member Miles Theeman credits LifeFlight with making health care seamless. Growing up in downeast Lubec, Theeman knows firsthand the difficulties patients face in receiving care in rural areas. He was transported by LifeFlight to Pen Bay Medical Center and then Eastern Maine Medical Center after experiencing a cardiac event.
“Wherever you start, there’s a linkage to get you wherever you need to be,” he said.
The three were reunited with some of the paramedics from their response teams at the ceremony, including Missy McCann, CCRN, an 11-year flight nurse.
For McCann, seeing her former patients thriving after their life-threatening accidents is a rewarding and rejuvenating experience.
“To me, it’s what makes it worth it. We’re making a difference,” McCann said.
The dedication ceremony also included speeches by Thomas Judge, LifeFlight executive director; Dr. Norm Dinerman, founding medical director of LifeFlight; and president and CEO of North Light Health Michelle Hood. Judge and Dinerman, along with Dr. Larry Hopperstead of Central Maine Healthcare, were instrumental in the founding and implementation of the LifeFlight program.
“In a moment’s time, things can change,” Judge said. “Our job is to give people their day back. When things go right, it’s because we built the system of care.”
LifeFlight was launched in 1998 by Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems (now Northern Light Health) and Central Maine Healthcare with the understanding that Maine needed an air ambulance system to move critically ill and injured patients quickly through the state’s rural landscape.
On Sept. 29, 1998, the Bangor-based LifeFlight helicopter crew answered its first request ever: to assist at a scene in the remote woods of Hancock County. A week later, on Oct. 8, then Gov. Angus King held a dedication ceremony, noting that the new aircraft ambulance system allowed medical personnel to travel and treat patients in areas of the state that were the most difficult to reach and broadened its scope of care.
“The state of Maine just got smaller,” he said at the time.
LifeFlight acted as a bridge to connect those in rural locations to the care offered in urban medical centers by bringing a specialized team and mobile intensive care unit, essentially a functioning hospital, to patients. To meet the challenges of Maine’s geography, the organization has grown to become an integrated transport system with helicopters, grounded ambulances and an airplane and works with different agencies across the state.
Since its inception, LifeFlight has expanded to include 107 workers and four bases in Bangor, Sanford and Lewiston. The LifeFlight crew has transported more than 25,000 patients and cared for more than 2,100 patients, and the number of requests for critical care transport has steadily increased at a rate of between 5 percent and 11 percent every year.
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