A Lifelong Dream Comes True

February 17, 2011

Winston-Salem, NC – Feb. 17, 2011 -- When Justin Bowers was growing up in Elkin, he was fascinated when AirCare, the air ambulance service of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, flew to Hugh Chatham Hospital.

“I’ve always been interested in medical helicopters,” he says.  While working at Moody Funeral Home his senior year in high school, Justin was encouraged to enroll in the EMS class at Surry Community College by a co-worker, Debbie Gwynn. “That’s when my interest began to build and later I volunteered for the rescue squad here."

“I always had a desire to help others, having grown up in a family funeral home business,” Justin continued.  “So I’ve dreamed of being on the AirCare crew for years.”

Now his dream has come true.  Bowers is one of eight members of Surry EMS to be selected for AirCare, which is planning to base one of its two helicopters at the Elkin Municipal Airport.

When he learned that Wake Forest Baptist wanted to base the helicopter in Surry County, he was “ecstatic.  This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Surry County, and I have a strong desire to be part of it.”

During his senior year at Surry Central High School, Justin went to Surry Community College and studied to be a paramedic.  Then, he went to Forsyth Tech and earned his Associate’s degree in emergency medicine. 

“While at Forsyth Tech, I had some clinical rotations at Wake Forest Baptist,” he said.  “I was so impressed by the interactions of the AirCare crew and how quickly and effectively they worked.”

Now, Justin is working on a degree in nursing, which he plans to complete next year to become a Registered Nurse.

At 27, he continues to volunteer at the Elkin Rescue Squad.  “From my experiences, I know the importance of having AirCare in our community to help save lives of our residents and those traveling on I-77 as well as the entire region,” Justin observes.

“I believe our community will feel a sense of pride in having AirCare stationed here,” he says. 

Wake Forest Baptist approached Surry County to suggest that AirCare be based in Surry County to reduce response time to reach critically ill or injured patients in the region who require emergency services from the region’s only trauma center.  While Elkin and Surry County are working together to prepare the airport for the helicopter and crew, AirCare 2 is based in nearby Boonville.

“Having the helicopter in Surry is a good idea,” said John Shelton, director of emergency services for Surry County.  “It will expedite service to counties in this region and strengthen our relationship with Wake Forest Baptist.”

AirCare treats patients with a variety of critical conditions, including trauma, cardiac, pediatric and acute medical, neonatal and high risk obstetrical patients. 

“The Elkin Airport is a strategic location, which will enable AirCare to cover more of the region in a timely manner, said Donny Lambeth, president of Baptist Hospital. 

“When lives are on the line, minutes can make the difference,” said Lambeth, who noted that AirCare has served approximately 14,000 patients in its 24-year history.

AirCare is in the air within 10 minutes of a call, and the crew is in direct radio contact with EMS personnel at the scene or with the physician at the referring hospital.

“Medical attention is provided while the patient is being transported to the Medical Center,” said Holly Mason, RN, program manager of AirCare.  “The crew is in communication with the physicians in the emergency department en route.”

AirCare flies at a cruising speed of approximately 150 miles per hour and is equipped with instrument flight capacity, night vision goggles and weather radar. The pilot must have a commercial helicopter certificate with instrument rating and at least 2000 hours total flight time.

“Safety is our number one priority,” added Mason, a resident of Pilot Mountain.

AirCare responds to calls from First Responders and hospitals 24/7.  The crew includes one of the eight Surry County EMS paramedics and a Registered Nurse with special training in critical care, emergency and transport nursing.  Nurses have at least five years’ critical care experience and are certified in a variety of advanced life support areas.

The Surry County Paramedics have completed a critical care paramedic course and are Nationally Registered Emergency Medical Technicians.  The paramedics will rotate shifts on AirCare and continue to work in their normal jobs with the Surry County EMS.

“The additional training that AirCare paramedics receive is a plus for our community, because we have a larger number of highly trained emergency services personnel,” said Shelton.  “It means that they will have a greater variety of work experiences, which will strengthen their careers and perhaps keep them in the county longer.”

The Elkin Airport has a new fuel farm and pilots can buy fuel 24 hours a day, said George Crater, planning director of Elkin.  “We also are expanding water and sewer services and will have housing for the crew of AirCare and a maintenance area,” he added.     

AirCare Critical Care Transport also includes ground transportation services with two ambulances.  “We are proud to be part of the EMS team that meets the needs of critically ill and injured patients in North Carolina and southwest Virginia,” said Mason.  “We have many agencies working together to provide the fastest, most effective transportation possible to save lives.”

Media Relations

Jonnie Rohrer: news@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-4587

Lisa Davanzo: news@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-4587