People who have come dangerously close to death understand how important emergency medical response is. For those who are lucky enough to survive serious accidents, the people they often credit are emergency medical responders.
In Texoma, one life-saving response team is Air Evac Lifeteam. This team is made up of crews who fly their patients, via helicopter E.M.S. to major area trauma centers. These medical responders are no longer conformed by gender precedent or stereotypes. Instead, it is women in the field who are making their mark in what was once a male-dominated industry.
Air Evac Lifeteam Base 34 is located in Wichita Falls. Air Evac medical flight crews respond to life-or-death accidents and/or trauma situations across Texoma. The team is made up of individuals, like Dana Bishop, who has a passion to save lives. With 35 years of experience, Bishop, a recent retiree at Air Evac, has seen the industry change first-hand when it comes to women who take to the air. Bishop shared her experience with Newschannel 6.
"I wanted to be a firefighter and that was kind of unheard of back in the middle-'70's... it was a starting thing, but it was very difficult for females to get into it," Bishop said. She began her career at a small volunteer fire department.
After pursuing her passion, Dana Bishop enrolled in an E.M.T. course. She passed her state test, then became an E.M.T.-firefighter-paramedic. At this point in her life and career, and after a couple close calls, Bishop realized she enjoyed the medicine aspect of her work even more than fighting fires.
Dana Bishop told Newschannel 6, "We had a cardiac arrest down the street from my house. I responded. We actually did mouth to mouth and we did chest compressions. I actually rode in the ambulance with the crew that came out and picked this lady up... Well, that was the start of something right there!"
Other women soon joined Bishop's ranks in the emergency response industry. Kelly Shaughnessy is a relatively new flight nurse stationed at Air Evac Lifeteam's Wichita Falls base. Prior to moving to Texas for the job, Shaughnessy worked at a level one trauma center in New York. She also told Newschannel 6 the story of how she began working for Air Evac. As a nurse retrieving patients flown in to the hospital she worked at, she described watching the helicopters land: "It's the greatest thing in the world... I kept saying, 'You know, one of these days, I'd like to do this myself.'"
After working as a nurse in the Emergency Room for more than 15 years, Shaughnessy said taking her medical expertise to the air - taking flight - was an obvious next step in the course of her career.
"If I said no to this job, I would probably regret it for the rest of my life," said Shaughnessy.
Emergency medical response is already difficult work, but when operating an E.R. from the air, things can prove to be even more challenging for crews.
"It takes a special breed of person to do this job in the first place. It doesn't matter if you're male or female," said Adrian Pena, a Strike Team Flight Nurse for Air Evac Lifeteam (RN CEN EMT-P).
One of the most difficult, but imperative aspects of their job is time. Time is critical for the team. In fact, time is part of what prompted the need for helicopter E.M.S. overall.
"Patients were not getting to hospitals in a timely fashion, so the advent of MedEvac -- which is helicopter E.M.S. -- got patients from accidents or in rural areas and got them to hospitals a lot faster than they would be going by ground."
The Program Director for Air Evac Lifeteam Base 34, Roger Ritchie, explained further.
"Our idea is to get the helicopters out there where people need them, and then fly back towards the major trauma centers. Instead of having it in the big city where it has to fly two ways to get to a patient," said Ritchie. He continued, "We can be in the Metroplex in an hour... to one of the major trauma centers, from one of the hospitals out here - you know, Quanah or somewhere - we can be back to United Regional in 25--30 minutes."
Death is within grasp for Air Evac responders. Even with extensive experience required in order to work for Air Evac, team members encounter danger daily on the job. Dana Bishop described this aspect of her career as the "hardest thing" she was faced with. Bishop said, "It may be no fault of the medical crew. It may be no fault of the pilot... It could just be a freak mechanical issue, and we're not coming home."
Danger, combined with taxing shift work, make it a tough call - a tough life decision - to take flight. Air Evac Lifeteam Crews spend 24 hours on base each shift. Responders are on base 24 hours each day, seven days per week, 365 days each year. For the medical response team in Wichita Falls, base 34 becomes a "home away from home" for members of their team. However, at any given moment, responders have to be ready to respond to a call, which could mean the difference between life or death for patients.
Bishop explained the added sacrifice to work the job. As a single mother of two daughters, she knows the meaning of "sacrifice" well. She said, "You have to have your heart into this... Your family does suffer. You're away from them for 24 hours at time. And, I think, just about anybody that's in this business - they'll say the same thing. Their family lives really suffer..."
Regardless, Air Evac Lifeteam members we reached out to seem to be in agreement that their job is worth it. The best reward, they agree: a simple 'thank you.'
Brittany Glas, Newschannel 6