It was a "Wow" moment in September of 1992 when Avera St. Luke's hospital introduced their first helicopter transport service: CareFlight. Since then the program has continued to offer the best in emergency patient care as they soar into their third decade of service.
24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the past twenty years, Avera St. Luke's CareFlight team has been ready to fly at a moments notice. The helicopter service has been providing the Aberdeen area with the best care for patients in the quickest manner since 1992. The hospital couldn't be more proud.
"Extraordinarily proud it's a wonderful program, Avera has made a huge commitment to the area and just to give us a flight program in this region has been an extraordinary benefit." Said Dr. Alex Falk.
Dr. Falk is an emergency physician has watched the program grow since it's inception. Dr. Falk says with South Dakota sparsely populated, heli-transport has become an extremely vital service for people in this area.
"I think it's a critical part of the emergency medicine system or EMS system, it gives us extraordinary rapid access to patients in the field who have been critically injured or patients at different hospitals that need our help." Said Dr. Falk.
Whether it's a patient transport to Sioux Falls or responding to the scene of an accident CareFlight has definitely racked up a few miles over the past two decades.
"We've had 3,859 flights in the last 20 years." Said director of emergency services, Carna Atherton-Pray.
Traditionally, the 20th anniversary gift is supposed to be china, but the hospital thought a brand new aircraft would be a better fit. Avera St. Luke's had been using a loaner helicopter after an emergency landing in April damaged theirs.
This new Bell 407 helicopter serves as a testament of Avera St. Luke's continued service to patients across South Dakota. Flight nurse Joe Eliason is apart of that continued service and is the newest CareFlight member to take to the skies and save lives.
"I just really appreciate this opportunity to work with CareFlight and being a flight nurse, they have a great tradition here and serving this area and I just take a lot of pride in this opportunity that I have." Said Eliason.
The hum of rotors is no strange sound across Brown County, but what the noise stands for is what really resounds with the hospital staff.
"I work here everyday and so you see the helicopter go out once or twice a day, but you never really think about how many numbers that adds up to over the past 20 years and how many lives we've impacted in the past 20 years." Said Atherton-Pray.
Like an awestruck child, Avera St. Luke's is eagerly watching the sky as CareFlight lifts off into the next 20 years. But some have their eyes set even further into the future.
"We're not looking at 20 years, we're looking at another 100." Said Dr. Falk.
The new helicopter was brought in to service last Friday. Flight Nurse Joe Eliason had the rare opportunity to fly on the last flight of the old helicopter and the first flight of the new one.