A Survival Flight team: (back row) flight nurses Lori Jacobs, Ben Tung, John Bullen and pilot Tony Eupizi; (front row) flight nurse Joe Mollinger and pilot Paul Straka.

The Sky’s the Limit

New helicopters mark next era for U-M’s Survival Flight

issue 15 | Spring 2012

Three maize and blue Bell 430 helicopters darting across Michigan's skies have been the icons of the U-M Health System's Survival Flight program for more than a dozen years.

Getting ready for their next call, the Survival Flight crew loads a stretcher and medical equipment into the helicopter.

In their collective service, more than 10,000 critically ill and injured patients and donated organs destined for new hosts have passed through their cabin doors, each a unique story of pain and hope.

Now, the arrival of three new American Eurocopter 155 helicopters later this year marks the beginning of a new era for the 29-year-old Survival Flight program, which was the first medical flight service in Michigan.

They are the first EC155s to be put into emergency medical service in the United States.

Advanced Features for Advanced Capabilities

The new helicopters, equipped with advanced avionics and safety features, have nearly 50 percent more cabin space for nurses and patients and all-glass cockpits. A 500-mile range allows them to fly as far as Syracuse, N.Y., or Louisville, Ky., without refueling, while a much shorter warm-up time shaves critical minutes from flights, as does a faster cruising speed.

In the past, picking up a patient in the Upper Peninsula was usually done with Survival Flight's Citation Encore fixed-wing plane, which requires additional time because patients must be transported to and from an airport by ground.

Three new American Eurocopter 155s will be in service soon.

But the greater range of the EC155s allows them to pick up patients as far away as Marquette without having to refuel, and bring them directly to University Hospital or the helipad atop the new C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital, which opened in 2011.

"We're excited about the helicopters' increased capabilities, but it's also important to remember that the heart of Survival Flight will remain the same, and by that I mean our dedicated team of highly-skilled fight nurses, pilots, mechanics and communications specialists," says Mark Lowell, M.D., Survival Flight's medical director.

Specialized Care in the Skys

"Survival Flight is about more than just getting a really sick patient from point A to point B," he adds. "What matters is the highly specialized care our patients receive before, during and after transport."

During each flight, the helicopter is staffed by two flight nurses who are also licensed as paramedics. The program is the only one in the state to require this high standard of dual certification. The 21 nurses of Survival Flight are cross-trained to treat everyone from newborns to geriatric patients.

"Our specialized capabilities are integrated into a robust Emergency Medicine program and directed by emergency physicians," Lowell says. "We deliver pediatric and adult patients right to state-of-the-art Level 1 trauma centers."

Chief flight nurse Donna Robinson says the new helicopters will make a big difference.

"The additional space and seating arrangement in the new helicopters is going to make it easier for flight nurses to stabilize patients," she says. "And their increased speed is going to help us reduce the time it takes to get a patient to the treatment they need."

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VIDEO: Watch a short video about Survival Flight.

What Sets Survival Flight Apart?

Gratitude that's more than skin deep