Today we wish a happy birthday to Life Flight, which turned 30 this week! When it started on March 1, 1985, Life Flight was the first hospital-based emergency transportation service in North Carolina. The new service, which had required a year and a half of planning, was significant in a couple of ways: the helicopter could transport critically ill or injured patients more quickly than a ground ambulance, and it allowed Duke to extend its scope of tertiary care to a 150 mile radius of Durham. The helicopter contained everything needed for an airborne intensive care unit, including ventilators, blood pressure monitors, IV fluids and special drugs, cardiac monitors and pacemakers, defibrillators, and intubation equipment. The equipment and supplies, along with the medical expertise of an intensive care nurse and specialty physician, meant that Life Flight could attend to a variety of patients, including cardiology, trauma, pediatric, and surgical, as well as high-risk pregnancies.
In addition to transporting and stabilizing patients, the service also carried life-saving drugs and donor organs. Life Flight exceeded all expectations; according to a 1986 article in the Intercom, it served 1,019 patients within its first year of operation. Over the years Life Flight has grown, and today is comprised of two helicopters and four ground ambulances. The Medical Center Archives has materials related to Life Flight's formation and evolution in several collections, which you can learn more about on our website.