First in flight
UF Health Jacksonville celebrates 30 years of TraumaOne Flight Services
By Dan Leveton
In August, UF Health Jacksonville marked three decades of TraumaOne Flight Services with a community celebration at the hospital’s Eighth Street campus, honoring those who have fought to save the most critically injured patients throughout northeast Florida and southeast Georgia.
Staffed by a team of pilots, critical care paramedics and nurses, TraumaOne helicopters, have transported tens of thousands of people since 1985, when the program was initiated in Jacksonville by Raymond Alexander, M.D.
“What makes our program so special is the people in the helicopters,” said Chad E. McIntyre, UF Health Jacksonville’s manager of TraumaOne Flight Services. “These are flying critical care ambulances that allow the medical team to begin treatment immediately once the patient is taken onboard. We don’t simply fly patients from place to place. It literally is bringing the critical care capabilities to the patient. We fight to save them once they’re in our care.”
Today, the TraumaOne fleet of helicopters is stationed at three locations throughout the region, ready to fly on a moment’s notice. Approximately 1,000 patients are now flown annually from North Florida and South Georgia to facilities for care after stroke, heart attack, trauma or pediatric emergency.
“TraumaOne Flight Services is more than a fast taxicab. These are highly skilled critical care nurses and paramedics flying to your side and providing lifesaving skills hundreds of feet above the ground in very confined spaces,” said J. Bracken Burns, D.O., medical director of TraumaOne Flight Services. “They are the best of the best in trauma, cardiac, stroke and pediatric prehospital care. I expect nothing less than high-quality care 100 percent of the time, and the flight crew I supervise delivers that day in and day out.”
The TraumaOne flight program began in 1985 when UF Health Jacksonville was known as University Medical Center. It is now part of UF Health Jacksonville’s Level I adult and pediatric trauma center.
“The pride we have in our trauma program, the physicians and caregivers who fight to save lives is immeasurable,” said Russ Armistead, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. “I think the people in our community are grateful for the amazing services we provide, including an amazing flight services team. I applaud them for the passion they bring to work each and every day.”
Joseph Tepas, M.D., was one of the pioneers of the program in 1985 along with David Vukich, M.D., and Alexander.
“We realized the crucial role flight services could play in health care, in saving lives, and designed a plan with others to bring that technology to the people of this community,” said Tepas, now the chief of pediatric trauma at UF Health Jacksonville. “To be a part of it from the beginning has been humbling and to see it grow has been incredibly rewarding.”
The efforts of Tepas, Vukich and Alexander have not gone unnoticed. Their initials are now emblazoned on the helicopters.
“There were a lot of people who served in this flight program over the years and in many different capacities. They all helped so many patients survive life-threatening injuries and illness,” said Vukich, now the chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs for UF Health Jacksonville. “I am proud to have been a part of it.”