LifeFlight of Maine Fight nurse/Paramedic Heather Cady chats with people who attended a ceremony to mark the agency’s 20 years in operation on Monday. There were celebrations in Bangor, Auburn, and this one, at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

SANFORD — There was a celebration Monday evening on the tarmac at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport, where participants could take an up-close look at a LifeFlight helicopter or fixed wing aircraft and inside a hangar where a 20-year service achievement was celebrated. It was one of three LifeFlight celebrations that day, the others were in Bangor and Auburn, all recognizing two decades of outstanding service in the air by LifeFlight of Maine.

For Chris Robinson, his experience with LifeFlight happened a few years ago, but is one he isn’t likely to forget anytime soon. His son Walker, 14 at the time, was snowboarding at Saddleback while Chris was skiing. Walker fell, then got up and said he was fine, but the ski patrol insisted he get checked – and it was a good thing he did.

Walker, his father said on Monday, had a ruptured spleen. The physicians at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington told Chris that his son needed more care they they were equipped to handle.

“The doctor said ‘it’s bad, and we’re not a trauma hospital,”’ Robinson recalled.

It was a matter of life or death.

And so LifeFlight of Maine was called. One helicopter was busy, but the helicopter based in Bangor was available.  Walker Robinson was flown to Maine Medical Center in Portland.

“It was amazing,” said Chris Robinson.

His son has recovered, is back playing sports and is a senior at Kennebunk High School.

Chris Robinson served on the LifeFlight of Maine board for a time, and supports the mission.

“I wanted to try and help, to give back,” he said of his involvement with the nonprofit organization.

The younger Robinson is among more than 25,300 people who have used LifeFlight services in the past 20 years.

The Sanford location for LifeFlight is the newest in the state, and the service marked its first year in operation at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport in March.

LifeFlight of Maine was officially launched on Oct. 8, 1998, by the medical entities now known as Central Maine Healthcare and Northern Light Healthcare.

LifeFlight of Maine Director Tom Judge told the audience on Monday evening that flights actually started a bit earlier, like the one to Deblois in Washington County on Sept. 29 that year,  to respond to a logging accident. Judge said the loggers were cutting down trees, making a space for the helicopter to land.

“Time and geography are the big issues,” he said.

LifeFlight, quite simply, is a mobile intensive care unit, said Dr. Peter Tilney, one of LifeFlight’s medical directors.

“We cover the whole state, and do so as a matter of routine,” said Tilney.

LifeFlight is experiencing five to 10 percent growth in volume annually, said Dr. David Tupponce of Central Maine Healthcare.

He said that growth will continue, as communities loose medical specialties due to financial constraints — and LifeFlight of Maine is asked to step into the breech.

“It’s essentially an ICU that flies to where the patients are,” he said.

Looking ahead, LifeFlight of Maine, which provides care regardless of whether a patient is insured, hopes to begin replacing its oldest helicopters in the fleet.

System-wide, there is a transport every 4 ½ hours. Just ask Flight Nurse/Paramedic  Heather Cady. Based at the Sanford location, Cady made three flights on Monday — to Machias, Boston and Dover-Foxcroft.

She’s been with LifeFlight since its first day of  operation.

“It’s an exciting job,” said Cady. “Maine needs it and we get to practice a high level of medicine and meet lots of people.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

 

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