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King Completes 2,000 EagleMed Flights

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McVey added, “Western Kansas is fortunate to have a nurse as intelligent, dedicated, and kind as Patty King, I sincerely hope Patty makes 2000 more flights, she is truly one-of-a-kind.” 

As adults, we ask young children what they want to be when they grow up, expecting the usual answers such as an astronaut, cowboy, teacher, firefighter, play pro football or basketball. 
For one former Syracuse resident and nurse at Hamilton County Hospital, Patty King knew she wanted to be a nurse since she was a little girl, and that never changed. 


“My mom was really sick when we were young, and we would visit her in the hospital. I thought that’s what I wanted to do!” King said. 
King recently completed her 2000th flight as a flight nurse with EagleMed, an air medical transport service in the Midwest which began in 1977. 


While EagleMed does not keep track of flights, King has kept a notebook in her flight bag, logging each flight with the date, flight number, where they flew, who she flew with, and what number it was for her. “It’s getting pretty beat up now!” said King. 
King was at work and during the safety meeting Paul Blazer, pilot for the day shift said, “Well Patty, how many do you need for the day?” and she replied, “Just two.”


“Everybody knew I was getting close because they watched me write in my book,” she said. “We got the first flight, got back and got launched right away, Randy McVey, another flight nurse was with me and he was as excited as I was.” 


Officially, her 2000th flight was at 2:35 AM February 23, “We conned the ambulance driver to take our picture!”  
While a celebration could have been in order, they were tired and ready to get some rest. They sent a text to the crew, something they never do. If they were awake at that hour, the crew can be awake too. “I felt lucky that everyone was so supportive.” 


Her nursing career began at Kansas State University where she studied pre-nursing, transferring to Fort Hays where she received her Bachelor of Science in nursing. 
She married Reg King from Syracuse, and her first job was in Syracuse at the hospital, “I was lucky that Doctor (Cecil) Petterson took me under his wing and taught me so much. We had a good relationship, and it was that way the whole time.”


King, to this day, finds herself repeating some of his quotes in her head such as morphine is the milk of human kindness, and treat the patient, not the lab work. “He always believed in a team approach and would say be a team player, or it takes all of us to do this, which I still believe in today.”  


“Back in the 70s and 80s we were busy! We had obstetrics and medical surgery patients. You never knew what was going to come through the door,” she said. “We had to learn so much.”  


Her first introduction to EagleMed was when they came to Syracuse to advertise their service, and King thought it sounded like a good job to have. She learned she had to have five years of experience in an intensive care unit, so she began working at St. Catherine’s in Garden City.  


June 1, 1998, was her first day with EagleMed.  “My first flight was June third, I was pretty overwhelmed, a girl from the country, born and raised in Holcomb, always been in a rural area, to be doing what I was doing!” 
She is now based in Liberal where there are crew quarters, so she is on site during her shift. There is also the pilot, another med crew, which is either a flight nurse and a paramedic or a flight nurse with another flight nurse. 


They can fly anywhere in the continental United States, and King is licensed in 34 states. She has flown to places like Denver, Amarillo, Dallas, Kansas City, Wichita, St. Louis, and Oklahoma City. The planes are kept mainly in their region. The furthest she has been is the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. They used to go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota as well. 


“You don’t know what you are going to do when you go to work that day, where you are going to be, or what kind of patient you are going to have,” she said. “Some people are sick, and it takes both of us working hard for that patient until we get them there.”


“Our shift begins at 8:00 AM and we check in, learn about the shift before, do narcotic counts, check supplies in the plane, then we are dispatched through a phone system or app to get launched for flight,” she explained. “They are then given information from sending hospital, we either take the flight or we don’t, it has to be safe, and it has to be legal, meaning if the pilot has enough duty time to take the flight.” 


Some days it’s noon and they do not have a flight yet, but they must do a lot of online education, review charts, and maintain certifications. So there is no down time. 


“We typically have two flights per shift, it is a busy base. I can’t remember when we have only had one flight,” said King. She enjoys getting to work with many different people, if they are short at the base, there is a national float pool so people from all over the nation can come cover a shift if they are able.  


She is never alone, flying with a partner that has the same experience and certification that she does, “So we bounce a lot off of each other.” Also on board is a satellite phone on the plane if they need to call someone. 


“I get to see so many different hospitals and so many different nurses and health care delivery, that’s my favorite part,” she said, “The ICU place where we take patients feels like the nurses are so smart and they do so much. I have learned a lot from people willing to share their knowledge.”


King has always loved anything about aviation, “My brother was a pilot, and my dad hated aviation. But when I became a flight nurse, then he thought it was OK!” She prefers fixed wing, not the helicopters, because there is more room.   


She does inner facility, compared to helicopters which sometimes are on the scene of an accident. “My patients are always from the hospital. The patient has been to the emergency room, had the initial work done and I take them from someone and transport them to where they need to be. So we don’t have them that long.” 


According to King, if there is a downside, it would be staying current with everything, the education, quarterly simulation labs. “We work with protocols or standing orders that our medical directors establish so the goal is to stay current, especially in rural Kansas. It’s very important.” 


King encourages anyone to become a flight nurse or even a nurse. “We have a nationwide shortage which I feel is due to lack of nursing instructors. They are all nationally accredited and have a certain student instructor ratio. Women have so many more job opportunities now, they can do anything!” She is happy to visit with anyone who has questions about becoming a flight nurse or a nurse, “The possibilities are endless.” 


“If I can do it, anyone can, starting at a small rural hospital, then at an intensive care unit. Now I am a flight nurse from rural western Kansas,” King said proudly. “I really like it and so that is why I’m having trouble deciding when a good time is to not to do it anymore.” 


King came from a family of five, “My mother passed away when I was eight. That is when I got my independent spirit.” While she has accomplished much, she feels her greatest achievement is her three girls, all SHS graduates - Jill, 1994 Jessica, 1997 and Julie, 2001. 


Jill is a grain merchandiser for ADM Grain in Hutchinson, married and has two children, Logan and Lauren. 
Jessica is the director of outpatient rehab at St. Catherine, director in a skilled nursing facility, director at the school and does home health, an all-around physical therapist, in addition to mother of her son Hudson. 
The youngest, Julie, is a board-certified internal medicine doctor, working as a hospitalist. She takes care of the patients while they are in the hospital, discharging them back to their primary care physician. 


In her free time, she follows the grandkids to as many activities as possible as they are members of travelling volleyball, baseball and football teams. Patty has always enjoyed yard work, a place where she can relax and enjoy her free time. “I spend a lot of time with my girls. They are a lot of fun to be with.” 


“I have the best of both worlds. I work part time, can fly, and still do other things too. I’m kind of spoiled.” She feels she may be getting toward the end of her career, “It’s a very physical job, a lot of lifting, but I just can’t see myself not doing it yet.” 


Now that she has reached 2000, will she continue to keep track? She says yes! “Maybe I’ll keep track for every year I have been with EagleMed. That would be twenty-six.”  


McVey, reflecting on he and King’s career together, sums it up by saying, “Today, the term "icon" gets thrown around a little too easily. But that's what Patty is, an icon,” he said. “I've been fortunate enough to know Patty since my time as a paramedic at Finney County EMS in Garden City when she was an ICU nurse. I was even more fortunate to be her partner on her 2000th flight.” He added, “Flying for EagleMed since 1998, her dedication to nursing and the citizens of Western Kansas is amazing.”


On their flight home from delivering the patient to Wichita, Patty and he reminisced about the "good ole days."  They talked about those we've lost and the lives we've saved. In closing, McVey added, “Western Kansas is fortunate to have a nurse as intelligent, dedicated, and kind as Patty King, I sincerely hope Patty makes 2000 more flights, she is truly one-of-a-kind.” 

 

First photo Pilot Mark Nevil, Patty King, and Randy McVey

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