• Janette Frawley

It hasn't been bled or barfed in yet.


STARS Air Ambulance, Calgary

Have you ever fallen into a situation that is so unexpected and amazing that you stop and wonder how it happened?

Pat has to go to work for a couple of hours and she asks me to come with her. Pat is a STARS nurse, and is scheduled to do some training with her colleagues this morning. I am delighted that I am able to tag along with her, after all, STARS has a very tiny association with Australia and I want to check it out. I even have a small gift for them.


Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) is a helicopter-based emergency transport service, which originated in Calgary, Alberta in 1985. The founder, Dr. Gregory Powell spent time as an observer in Vietnam, and also visited Australia to research our Flying Doctor Service. Powell was not only the chief of the emergency department in a hospital, he was also a pilot. He knew that more people could be saved if they could get the patients to a hospital faster than by road ambulance, and set about creating a non-profit organisation to provide helicopter rescue and transport in and around Calgary.


Pat started working at STARS thirty years ago in 1989, and has just last week been recognised for her thirty years of service with the service.


30th anniversary of working at STARS


We arrive and Pat changes into her uniform, which includes a helmet, which she must wear whilst in the helicopter. STARS has just bought two new helicopters and the staff are currently making operational and safety videos, which will be used for training purposes. I watch carefully as staff demonstrate how to open and close the doors, how to put the stretcher into the back, and how to remove it, and more. I realise that with a new helicopter, nothing can be left to chance, and these videos are important.



Checking out the new helicopter

I am invited to sit inside the helicopter. All the medical equipment has its own place and despite its compact size, the seats can swivel to attend to a patient, whilst the nurse is still firmly strapped into their seat. I am surprised to see how well-equipped it is. Pat pokes her head through the door.

'Take a deep breath,' she says. 'Enjoy that new helicopter smell. It hasn't been bled or barfed in yet!'

There's nothing like bringing me back to earth with a thud. It is true. If this or the other new helicopter is called out, it is for a life-threatening emergency, so that 'new' smell is hardly likely to last after the first call.

Each of the helicopters has cost $11M and although there are sponsors who have their names on the second helicopter, their purchase has only been possible through serious fundraising.


The team is called out to finalise their helicopter training, which means that they must travel to a nearby airport, carry out a number of procedures then return to Calgary. After watching them take off, I am accompanied through the headquarters on a tour, which is totally unexpected, but much welcomed. I am in a unique situation, as I mentally wonder how many civilians are able to visit each department and to have the ability to see how STARS operates under the incredibly devoted staff. There are now six STARS bases in Western Canada, and when I visit the control room, I get a better idea of the complexity of the operations.


The helicopter takes off

I finish the tour in the fully functioning kitchen and sitting room. Like firefighters, air ambulance personnel are on call 24 hours a day.


Pat returns from her training session. Not everything went to plan, but they were able to overcome glitches, knowing that in real life, glitches can cause precious time to be wasted.


For me, this unique opportunity to visit the hub of medical evacuation has been an incredible experience. I now understand better the way that dedicated staff not only work together as a team when a medical emergency is successfully accomplished, but also when things don't work in favour of the patient. These people, with all their experience are also vulnerable.

I have nothing but respect for all those working here.


I present Pat and her team with a modest gift of two tea towels from the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service for their kitchen.





TITLE QUOTE: Pat Jeffrey

ACCOMMODATION: Private homestay




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