Director of Flight For Life Colorado
Kathleen Mayer is the Director of Flight For Life Colorado. Kathy's career started with Flight For Life in 1983 as a Flight Nurse. In 1993 she went to The Children's Hospital to serve as its first trauma coordinator and work toward Level I trauma accreditation.
In 1999, Kathy returned to Flight For Life to oversee the day to day operations and in 2004 was tasked with combining the Denver operations with the Colorado Springs operation and adding a 4th helicopter in Pueblo, creating Flight for Life Colorado.
Flight For Life Colorado Medical & Flight Operations Teams
The professionals who staff Flight For Life® Colorado are highly trained, deeply committed and the only air ambulance and critical care transport team in the region staffed exclusively with full-time flight nurses. Their sole responsibility is to staff this program and remain current on all procedures and protocols. Our flight paramedics work closely with the flight nurses, providing a combination of paramedic pre-hospital experience and flight nurse abilities that results in a dynamic team able to handle virtually every situation encountered in air medical transport.
In addition to our specially trained medical staff our helicopter and fixed wing pilots have extensive experience, having a minimum of 3000 hours flight time including Rocky Mountain experience. Since 1993, Flight For Life® Colorado has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS). We are proud that our emergency air and ambulance system was the first in Colorado to achieve this designation.
The flight nurses at Flight For Life® Colorado are registered nurses specializing in emergency and critical care, as well as pre-hospital management. A minimum of five years experience in high-level emergency or intensive care is required prior to being chosen for a position as a flight nurse.
In addition to standard certifications, they undergo intensive training to enhance their assessment skills and the performance of a wide range of invasive skills. While some situations require consultation with a medical control physician, clinical policies provide a great degree of autonomy for the nurse. Flight nurses have the skill and technology available to provide and maintain a hospital-level of care throughout the transport.
Flight nurses are capable of performing the following advanced procedures:
- Endotracheal intubation, including "rapid sequence" (RSI) pharmacologic adjuncts, laryngeal mask airway (LMA) insertion, surgical and percutaneous cricothyrotomy
- Mechanical ventilation
- Chest tube insertion
- Central venous access and pressure monitoring
- Maintenance of invasive hemodynamic and intracranial pressure monitoring
- Complete ALS services, including maintenance of fibrinolytic therapy
- Blood product administration
- High-risk obstetrical care and neonatal resuscitation (NRP)
- Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
- Intra-aortic balloon pump transport
The flight paramedic is aboard all helicopter flights. The combination of the paramedic's pre-hospital experience with the flight nurse's abilities creates a dynamic team that is able to handle virtually every situation encountered in air medical transport. A paramedic must have at least three years experience in an active ALS system to be considered for a position with Flight For Life Colorado. Building on their experiences in pre-hospital care, paramedics are given additional training to enhance their skill level and enable them to assist the flight nurse in maintaining the hospital-level of care.
Newborn Young Child Team
The flight nurse on the Newborn/ Young Child Team is a specialist in the care of neonatal and pediatric patients. Based at The Children's Hospital, a regional tertiary care and level one pediatric trauma center, these flight nurses are capable of resuscitating and supporting the life of the smallest of neonates. As well, the infant and young toddler benefit from their knowledge of child development and their distinctly different care needs.
On occasion, the Newborn/ Young Child Team will accompany the Adult Team on a high-risk OB transport when there is a chance of delivery either at the sending facility or en route. In some situations, the team will be asked to be on hand at a referring facility for a known high-risk delivery to assist with initial care and preparation for immediate transfer to the neonatal ICU.
The Newborn/ Young Child Team Flight Nurse is capable of providing the following advanced procedures:
- Endotracheal intubation, including "rapid sequence" (RSI) pharmacologic adjuncts, and laryngeal mask airway (LMA) insertion
- Mechanical ventilation
- Medicut insertion
- Umbilical artery and vein cannulation, with pressure monitoring
- Administration of pulmonary surfactant
- Administration of Nitric Oxide gas
- Complete NRP and PALS services
Flight Respiratory Therapists
Given the particular, and sometimes overwhelming, pulmonary needs of the newborn and young child, the flight respiratory therapist (RT) is a vital member of the Newborn/Young Child Team. Working in concert with the flight nurse, the respiratory therapist is able to assess and deal with the myriad of neonatal and pediatric airway pathologies, and to guide and maintain specialized mechanical ventilation during the transport.
Also based at The Children's Hospital in Aurora, the Newborn/Young Child Team RT works in the emergency department and ICUs between transports. The complexities of some treatment modalities, e.g., surfactant administration and Nitric Oxide ventilation, require a level of familiarity and comfort that is only achieved by daily contact with these patients.
Pilots & Mechanics
Flight For Life Colorado Fixed Wing pilots come from various backgrounds. Several of our pilots have previous airline experience including, American Eagle, Great Lakes Airlines, Air Midwest, Salmon Air, Skyway, US Airways and United Airlines. Others have flown scheduled freight routes for cargo airlines in the Rocky Mountain region. Many were also flight instructors at one time. All pilots are required to hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate and have a minimum of 3000 hours flight time including Rocky Mountain experience.
Mayo Aviation uses Flight Safety International for all initial and recurrent pilot training. Pilots visit Flight Safety twice a year for comprehensive ground and simulator training on normal and emergency operations.
Flight For Life Colorado helicopter pilots and mechanics are a diverse group with a common goal. That goal is the safe accomplishment of our mission throughout the state, whether that involves transporting patients from a catastrophic scene to inserting an avalanche dog and team on a high remote mountain top. No two flights are ever the same so we prepare for the inevitable changes that come with every mission. Every mission begins with an aircraft that has been checked and maintained by our mechanic group. Our mechanics average 22 years of A&P experience, 15 years working on the AS350 series and 7 years working for Flight For Life Colorado. Some of our mechanics received their initial training through the military while others opted for civilian schools and training. Regardless of the path that brought them to us, they are the backbone of our program as everything we do begins with an airworthy aircraft.
The pilots that fly these aircraft average 29 years of rotary wing experience, 6,550 flight hours, 350 hours of night vision goggle time and have worked at Flight For Life Colorado for about 9 years. Most of our pilots have military backgrounds with the diverse flight experiences that come with that profession. Due to the location of our bases and the various missions we perform, adequate mountain flying experience is a mandatory job requirement. Our pilots receive regular scheduled training and evaluation flights from the Air Methods Safety and Standardization departments.
The role of the EMT-Basic in Flight For Life Colorado is primarily to drive our two Denver-based critical care ambulances. Stationed at St. Anthony Hospital and Children's Hospital Colorado, these ambulances are used for ICU to ICU, ED to ED and ED to ICU transports, and to assist or replace our helicopters in certain emergency situations, i.e., when weather prohibits flight. In addition to their ambulance responsibilities, our EMT's also assist the flight nurses and respiratory therapists in preparing patients for transport.
Flight Operations is the business hub of Flight For Life Colorado. Located at St. Anthony Hospital, they handle all billing, HR functions, payroll, accounts payable/receivable, requests for helicopter safety training, public relations flights, and tracking statewide program statistics, as well as providing support for many of the other day to day operations at Flight For Life Colorado.
The Communication Specialists work in the Flight for Life Colorado Communication Center handling the dispatching and communications needs for all of Flight For Life Colorado's services. When a request for a transport is received the communications specialist determines which of Flight For Life Colorado's vehicles is appropriate for the transport and activates the crew. While in flight, the location and progress of the vehicles are tracked via radio and satellight communications . The Communication Specialists also handle the coordination of other services that may be required on the scene.
Betsy Phelan is our Flight Chaplain. Her primary responsibilities are to provide emotional and spiritual support to our crews and staff, and our patients and families with a focus on secondary trauma resiliency support. Betsy accomplishes this by providing:
- Continuing education presentations on topics related to the emotional/spiritual dimensions of critical care transport
- Debriefings/defusings after traumatic transports
- Intake and referral services.
Our Physician Advisors play a critical role in directing our procedures and overseeing the care we provide.
Dr. Michael Brunko has been actively involved in critical care transport on a national level. He is the past president of the Air Medical Physicians' Association and serves on the Board of Directors for the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS).
Having been at St. Anthony Central Hospital since 1991, he has been medical director for the Flight For Life program based at St. Anthony Central, and is only the fourth physician to serve in that capacity in the program's 36-year history.
As chief medical officer, Dr. Brunko is responsible for the quality and direction of clinical care, research efforts, evaluation of patient care technologies, and he will interface with the medical communities served by Flight For Life Colorado.
Jeremy DeWall, MD, NRP, has been a Nationally Registered paramedic since 1998 with previously working as a full time paramedic in ground transport as well as a flight physician / paramedic with Flight For Life in Wisconsin. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee prior to completing his medical degree and emergency medicine residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin in 2010. Dr. DeWall currently practices as a board-certified emergency medicine physician at Penrose - St. Francis Hospitals in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In addition, he is the medical director for over 25 EMS services ranging from aeromedical services, EMS education services, tactical EMS services, and urban and wilderness services throughout the Pikes Peak Region. He is also the medical director for Pikes Peak Community College Emergency Medical Services programs and is a clinical faculty member the the University of Colorado Medical College.
Dr. Brian Shields, born and raised in Ohio, is the medical director for our Denver and Summit County bases, and oversees the clinical practices of our crewmembers at Saint Anthony Central Hospital and Saint Anthony Summit Medical Center bases. Brian was the former medical director of the Saint Anthony Central Emergency Room, before becoming the north state medical director in March of 2009.