On Dec. 10, a medical helicopter crashed in inclement weather and killed Jim Dillow, RN, and Karen Hollis, RN, both flight nurses with Rockford Memorial Hospital.
The helicopter had been dispatched at 7:30 p.m. to pick up a patient at Mendota Community Hospital. After encountering sleet, the pilot radioed that he was returning to Rockford Memorial. The aircraft went down in a farm area 30 miles from its destination.
The pilot, employed by Air Methods of Denver, only had four more shifts scheduled before his retirement.
The helicopter and staff were part of the Regional Emergency Acute Care Transport (REACT) program.
"A Lot of Broken Hearts Here"
According to Robert Escarza, MD, medical director of the REACT program, both Dillow and Hollis were an integral part of the flight team and put their role as clinicians above any potential dangers in flying.
"There's a mythical quality to this business," he remarked. "These nurses both functioned at the level of 3rd or 4th year residents as far as medical acumen. They cared about patients more than about any ancillary stuff in the flight program. We lost an invaluable amount of experience."
Hollis' experience included 10 years as a flight nurse, as well as positions in the ICU, emergency department and trauma in her 26 years with the health system. Escarza couldn't even enumerate her contributions to the program.
"Karen was pretty special. She had boundless energy," he recalled. "She was constantly trying to improve and always worried about making a mistake on the job. She never did. She arranged consultants for the crew's education and broke up the monotony of our meetings."
Outside of Rockford Memorial, Escarza speculated that Hollis' loss might be felt even more deeply at a special needs school where she was heavily involved in fundraising and curriculum development.
"Within our program and outside of it, Karen's death will leave a big hole in the world," Escarza said.
Dillow also has 10 years experience as a flight nurse as well and held previous critical care and ED positions. Escarza admired his dedication to his four children as well as his commitment to the job and effervescent personality.
"He was a class clown type," Escarza recalled. "We could actually use him now. He'd be mortified to know what we're going through on his behalf. He would've started us on the path to healing."
Rockford Memorial is planning a memorial service for the crew on Dec. 19 in the physical education center at Rock Valley Community College, 3301 N. Mulford Rd., Rockford. The service is planned from 10 a.m. - 11 a.m., ending with a flyover by a number of aircraft. Because of the large crowd anticipated, the general public should arrive by 9.
The REACT Crew Memorial Fund was also established to support the families. Contributions may be made via phone at (815) 971-4141 or online at www.rockfordhealthsystem.org/REACT.aspx.
Robin Hocevar is senior regional editor at ADVANCE.