History of Duke Life Flight
In 1946, the world’s first air ambulance was started by two former Duke Students.
In 1985, after 18 months of research, Duke Life Flight became the first hospital based helicopter service in North Carolina. Dr. Greg Georgiade, the current Medical Director, had done research into the benefits of transporting trauma patients by air. At the same time that Life Flight was coming up, changes in cardiology demanded the need to reduce the time of onset of injury to the delivery of care, specifically in the area of Interventional Cardiology Cath Lab technology.
Ms. Rita Weber, the first Program Director for Life Flight, recalls that “We were the most active first year flight program in the country”. She also states: “When it comes to Aviation Medicine – we want to supply our team with the safest aircraft, software, working environment and to be able to deliver the best care in the air. Our job is to give the nurses “what they needed at all times”.”
When Dr. Georgiade talks about the first group of nurses, he states: “I wanted to gather a group of Duke Nurses and advance their practice. Life Flight distinguishes itself by its quality of care. Clearly, the nurses made the difference. They brought Duke to the bedside and established a relationship with the referring staff, nurses and physicians. The nurses are responsible for the overall success of the program”.
Over the past 25 years, Life Flight has grown from a single helicopter in 1985, to two helicopters and four ground ambulances. Our first helicopter was a Bell 222 (utility model – with skids). Since then we have progressed from a Dauphin N1, Dauphin N2, two Aerospecial Twin Stars, two Agusta 109 E Powers and two Eurocopter EC-135s. As of Spring/Summer 2012, we fly two Eurocopter EC-145s.
The 24 hour helicopter is staffed with one pilot and two nurses, each on 12 hour shifts. Our second helicopter is operational 12 hours per day from 10a.m. until 10 p.m. Initially both helicopters were based at Durham, but we have recently relocated one aircraft to the Johnston County airport with the 24 hour aircraft remaining at Duke. The helicopters have always been configured with two nurses, but initially in the Dauphine we had one pilot during the day and two pilots at night. We currently fly with only one pilot who is Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) rated.
The ground component to Life Flight was started in March, 1989 and was called “Life Care”. In 2001 the Life Care name was dropped and all air vehicles were identified as Life Flight I or III and the ground vehicles were identified as Duke 1 for Durham, Duke 2 for Lumberton, Duke 3 for Burlington and Duke 4 for Smithfield, North Carolina.
Initially the ground program was for adult patients only. Shortly after it was started, the Life Care 1 Nurses were cross trained to manage Neonatal and Pediatric patients. Rita Weber talks about the ground component to Life Flight: “Duke also started the first Critical Care Ground Transport Team. When Life Care 1 came up, it was the first. We wanted to develop a sophisticated ground unit, a rolling ICU staffed with two nurses that would meet all of the patients needs, including an Intra Aortic Balloon Pump (IABP) by ground. Life Care 1 did the first IABP transport from the Durham Veterans Administration Medical Center to Duke 1989. With each of the ground units, we wanted to be partnered with that hospital. Duke 2 was the first satellite brought up in Lumberton, North Carolina, followed quickly by Duke 3 in Burlington and Duke 4 in Smithfield.