MedFlight celebrates five years flying for Novant, community

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, November 2, 2022

SALISBURY — Five years ago, on another sunny first day of November, MedFlight made its first official landing at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

Since then there have been 1,300 life-saving flights, and the three-person crew averages one and a half flights a day.

MedFlight, which operates out of the helicopter aptly named the Aubergine Angel of the Skies, is a partnership between Novant and MedTrans, the company that operates the flight program.

“The program was groundbreaking in North Carolina and the first in the area,” said Tom Brereton, aviation manager for MedTrans and lead pilot for MedFlight. “I’m an OG, one of the original crew, and I’m so grateful we get to do what we do.”

The partnership came into being as Novant began to look at the best way to connect its services to surrounding hospitals and medical centers.

“We are the only county hospital, and we are centrally located between Forsyth and Presbyterian,” said Gary Blabon, president and COO of Novant. “We were looking for a program that would have the biggest impact on the community, and provide the best health benefit.”

MedFlight provides critical transport between Novant and other partner facilities that can provide the lifesaving care a patient needs as well as assisting the greater community with on-scene medivac services. Every flight has three people on board: the pilot, a flight nurse and a paramedic, and the nurse and medic are equally trained.

“We have everything on board that you would find in a small ICU,” said Amy Cherry, a member of the medical crew. “We carry blood for transfusions, a ventilator, infusion pumps, even an ultrasound. We are an ICU in the air.”

The team operates under the medical license of Dr. Josh Loyd, who is also a licensed pilot, but not for helicopters, only for planes.

“It does mean I have an understanding of things like weather and flight weights and those kinds of logistics,” he said, “but I am not by any means a helicopter pilot.”

It takes the crew about eight minutes to get up in the air, and “early activation is key,” said Cherry. “When 911 gets a call, they input information into the system and it tells them if we need to be activated. Then we will go on standby, so if they call for us, we’re already in position ready to just push the button.” In some cases, they will even get airborne, “because it’s easy enough to cancel us, but that cuts down on our response time.” The crew will also act as backup for other flight crews at other hospitals who either are already in the field or who may have been grounded by weather.

“We just want people to know we’re here,” said Cherry,

“As someone who lives here, and who sees people out and about, I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about how these crews have saved lives of people’s loved ones,” added Blabon.

“Our medical staff is consistently some of the best in the field,” said Brereton. “Top tier. We have an intensely selective hiring process, and I could not be prouder than I am working with this crew.”