Staff for Life Celebrates 30 Years

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COLUMBIA - The Staff for Life Helicopter Service celebrated a milestone this week--30 years of service in Missouri. It has transported more than 30,000 patients during its three decades of service.

"Patients have been beating daunting odds to survive life threatening traumas and illnesses...thanks to this service," chief executive director of University of Missouri Health Care James Ross said.

Dr. Frank L. Mitchell Jr. founded the program in 1982 while serving as a trauma surgeon at University Hospital. The service began with one helicopter, four medical flight crew members and University Hospital as the single operations location. However, three years later in April 1985, the service expanded to a second permanent location at Lake Ozark General Hospital. During the next decade, the program established a third base at La Monte near Sedalia, upgraded its helicopter models twice and became one of the few programs in the country to carry life-saving blood products on board each aircraft.

Since then, Staff for Life has accumulated a 30-person medical flight crew and added more features to each aircraft, such as night vision goggles, ultrasound machines and mini laboratories.

Mitchell's co-director of the Staff for Life Helicopter service said, in addition to technology, team work is also essential. "In reality, if you're not injured inside Columbia, the likelihood that you're going to arrive to a hospital in one hour is pretty low. It takes sometimes two to three hours for a helicopter to arrive after being notified. The care the folks receive on-ground before they see us is important," Dr. Jeffrey Coughenour said.

The service welcomed its most recent addition Oct. 31-- a new McDonnell Douglas MD902 helicopter to replace the old BK 117 helicopter. The new helicopter is tiger-striped with a larger cabin space for more medical equipment and technological updates, such as night vision, autopilot, an in-flight cardiac monitor and mobile blood testing.

The hospital said the new helicopter will be safer and quieter than any helicopter in service.

"This is one of the things that makes me most proud of our service...that we're going to constantly push the envelope and have the things and effectively use the things that are becoming a common place in pre-hospital medicine," Coughenour said.

Coughenour said our country's history has also impacted the service's history. "Vietnam was probably the last big advance in care until now," Dr. Jeffrey Coughenour said. "Right now there's obviously a lot of different things changing in the way we take care of patients. It's a neat time to be involved in care of the injured...there's a lot of things that we have improved upon...the way you've always done it is not always the best."

Coughenour said he and his staff have looked at the technological advances used in Iraq and Afghanistan and tried to implement them into their practice.

"If you look forward at the next six months, it's going to be a lot of getting used to the skin we're in now. When you look at the next five to ten years, who knows. There's continually new advances coming out of trauma care."

The Staff for Life Helicopter Service responds to more than 1,000 emergency calls and patient transport requests per year. On board each flight are a flight nurse, flight paramedic, and pilot.

For more information on the Staff for Life Helicopter Service, visit

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