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University of Missouri Health Care News Releases
Staff for Life Helicopter Service celebrates 30th anniversary with unveiling of new black-and-gold helicopter

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The newest helicopter in University Hospital's Staff for Life fleet went into service Oct. 31 - a McDonnell Douglas MD902 equipped with the latest medical equipment, including in-flight cardiac monitoring, mobile blood testing and ultrasound, as well as state-of-the-art aviation equipment, including night vision and autopilot for the helicopter pilots.

The new black-and-gold helicopter was on public view Oct. 31 at a reception celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Staff for Life Helicopter Service at University Hospital.

University Hospital's helicopter service was mid-Missouri's first air ambulance, providing immediate medical care and rapid transportation for critically ill and injured patients. Since the first flight in November of 1982, the helicopter service has flown approximately 30,000 patient missions.

"Our helicopter team is incredibly proud to have served mid-Missouri for 30 years," said Leeann Johnson, R.N., chief flight nurse for the helicopter service, who has served on the flight team since 1984. "It's a calling, caring for people when their lives are on the line. The most rewarding part is seeing our patients when they are going home from the hospital. When we are out on a training mission in a nearby community and a person comes up and thanks you for having saved his life years before, it's touching when people remember that and thank us."

The Staff for Life Helicopter Service was established through the efforts of Frank L. Mitchell Jr., M.D., then director of University Hospital's Emergency Services. His idea began years before, when Mitchell was an Army officer in Germany during the Cold War. As an Army surgeon, Mitchell glimpsed the future of civilian trauma care as he treated soldiers who were transported to the hospital via medical evac helicopters after automobile wrecks and training accidents.

"When you're trying to save the life of a trauma victim, minutes truly count," Mitchell said. "If you can get the person to a trauma center within the 'golden hour' after the accident, that patient will have much better chances of surviving and thriving afterward."

In 1980, Mitchell began a trial helicopter service at University Hospital in cooperation with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. During that trial period, approximately 65 to 70 patients were transported by helicopters to University Hospital, and Mitchell concluded that a permanent helicopter service with rapid transport from rural accident scenes to a hospital would improve patient outcomes and save lives. When the Staff for Life Helicopter Service went into operation, it became the 54th air medical program in the United States and only the third in Missouri.

"Our helicopter service is rich with history, and the future of our helicopter program is just as exciting," said Jeffrey Coughenour, M.D., co-medical director of the Staff for Life Helicopter Service and a trauma surgeon at University Hospital. "This new helicopter and its technological advances, such as the new portable ultrasound device, will help our crew as we provide life-saving care throughout central Missouri." 

The Staff for Life team works continually to incorporate the latest in care techniques and leading-edge technology, such as the new helicopter's portable ultrasound device. Technology such as portable ultrasound helps the air ambulance crew as they work to identify life-threatening conditions while patients still are en route to the hospital.

Each year, the Staff for Life team responds to more than 1,000 emergency calls and patient transport requests. On board each flight are a flight nurse, flight paramedic and pilot. The highly trained team is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at three bases strategically located in central Missouri. Helicopters are stationed at University Hospital in Columbia, at Lake Regional Hospital in Osage Beach and west of Sedalia in La Monte.

"Our helicopter is staffed by an expert air ambulance crew with a wide range of medical technology at their fingertips," said John Yanos, M.D., co-director of the helicopter service and an MU Health Care Emergency Department physician. "With that skilled staff and equipment, the aircraft is like a combined ambulance and intensive care unit. It gives us the ability to care for a variety of injuries and illnesses in patients from newborns to the elderly."

A specialized Children's Hospital transport team, consisting of a critical care nurse, respiratory therapist and pilot, also uses the helicopter to transport infants and children. Premature or ill babies are flown from rural hospitals throughout mid-Missouri to receive specialized care at the Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Pediatric Unit, Adolescent Unit or Pediatric ICU at MU Children's Hospital.

While the helicopters are staffed by medical crews from University Hospital, the helicopters themselves are owned and operated in collaboration with University Hospital by Air Methods Corp. of Englewood, Colo., the nation's largest provider of air medical emergency transport services and systems.

"On behalf of Air Methods, I want to congratulate the Staff for Life on their 30 years of service to central Missouri," said Patti Klein, regional vice president for Air Methods Corp. "We're proud to be University of Missouri Health Care's trusted partner of choice, adding more than three decades of air medical transport service to MU Health Care's skilled patient-care flight team."




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