Helicopter Heroes: Meet the Mercy Flight medics who save people’s lives in the air

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Paul Centola’s job offers him the best views of Central New York, but he barely has time to look out the window.

After years saving lives in an ambulance and then ICU, he took his talents to the sky.

Paul is a flight nurse for Mercy Flight, an emergency room 1,500 feet above any hospital that moves patients who may only have minutes to live.

Because the paramedics have no idea what call is on the horizon, they keep nearly 100 types of medicine on board to do almost anything: Putting patients to sleep, waking them up, raising their blood pressure and lowering it.

Without a patient on board, NewsChannel 9’s Andrew Donovan tagged along with the crew.

After 40 years as a paramedic, Mercy Flight is a retirement job for Bob Breese, but the responsibility doesn’t feel like it.

Breese tells Andrew, “We make life and death decisions under stress. If nothing else I learned, if you learn the basics, when it comes to complex stuff, you don’t worry about the basics, you do them.”

Breese adds, “It takes us a third of the time it takes for you to drive. You also noticed how smooth it was, even though the weather isn’t the greatest.”

He says the ride is better for the patient, not only because of speed, but it’s more stable versus potholes on city streets.

NewsChannel 9’s flight landed at St. Joseph’s Hospital, which is celebrating one year of its helipad.

In the last year, the hospital has treated 70 patients who came via helicopter. Many started at smaller hospitals, but needed to be transferred to St. Joe’s for more complex care, especially in the cardiac department St. Joe’s is known for.

Yuri Pashchuk, St. Joseph’s Clinical Director of Medical-Surgical, Critical Care, and Progressive Care, says, “Now that word is getting out that we have this capability, hospitals are definitely following suit getting the patient to the right place very quickly.”

“Time is tissue when you’re talking about stroke, neuro-emergencies or cardiac. Time is of the essence,” he says.

More from NewsChannel 9:

For more local news, follow Andrew Donovan on Twitter @AndrewDonovan

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