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In Flight

Hospital Wing celebrates 20 years of saving lives in the Mid-South.



One hundred fifty miles per hour. That's how fast the motorcyclist was speeding along Bill Morris Parkway a few years ago when the wind blew him off his bike.

"He skidded along the edge of a metal guardrail, and it just sliced him open," said Joel Gingery, a flight nurse with Hospital Wing, the Mid-South's air-ambulance service. Luckily for the biker, 150 mph is also how fast the chopper crew flew to reach the victim.

"I was told to expect a sucking chest wound," said Gingery, "so I got the bandages ready in-flight. But when I saw what he had, I just threw those bandages away and worked to stabilize him." The helicopter crew rushed the victim to the trauma center at The Med.

"He made it," said Gingery, and the motorcyclist joined a list of some 36,000 patients rescued by Hospital Wing since it was founded in 1986.

On June 24th, Hospital Wing flight nurses, pilots, and other crew members -- past and present -- along with former patients, emergency medical technicians, and several hundred others gathered at the company's main hangar at 1080 Eastmoreland to celebrate the company's 20th anniversary. They munched on hamburgers and birthday cake, toured the Hospital Wing facilities, and peeked inside the four specially equipped helicopters -- essentially intensive-care units with wings, designed to carry a pilot, two nurses, and one patient.

Barbara Wells has been a flight nurse for Hospital Wing since it was founded, flying on helicopters based in Memphis, Brownsville, and Robinsonville, Mississippi, to treat critically injured patients within 150 miles of Memphis.

Wells estimated she has been on more than 2,000 flights. "One of the most dramatic events was the propane explosion on the interstate here in 1987," she said. The horrific accident -- caused by a tanker truck overturning -- took place within sight of the hangar. "I saw the tanker fly through the air in a ball of fire, and I thought it was a plane crash," she said. Because the interstate was blocked by debris, Hospital Wing helicopters landed on the roadway and in a matter of minutes were carrying the burn victims to nearby hospitals.

"Last year, we flew in Hank Williams' daughter," she said, after the woman was injured in a car accident near Tunica. "But the worst cases are usually the ones involving children. Those are the ones that really affect you emotionally."

On Saturday, though, Wells and her colleagues were smiling and sharing success stories. She looked at the copters parked on the pad and said, with a sense of relief, "I can't believe they are all here. I hope we can get through the day without them."

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