Hey, Spike! tells of a too-short rescue nurse’s life
Special to the Daily
Veteran helicopter flight nurse Kristin McLain lived to help others — and she died tragically doing it.
The Colorado native, who worked frequently in Frisco for St. Anthony’s busy Flight For Life Colorado in 2006-08 was on a STAR Flight rescue mission in Austin, Texas, in late April, attempting to hoist an injured female hiker from a greenbelt area mishap, when Kristin fell from the helicopter’s hoist and died at the scene.
The target of the rescue mission was later hospitalized with injuries that were not considered life threatening.
The 46-year-old Kristin was a top flight nurse and rescuer in a career with limited personnel, especially in flights that offer hoisting extraction methods.
Memorial services for Kristin in Texas drew an estimated 3,000 persons, including 15 Colorado colleagues, among them Peter Werlin, a Frisco-based Flight for Life nurse, who had worked with her here.
He noted the lengthy service procession, led by 26 motorcycle police officers, was attended by many fellow emergency medical services professionals, along with other law enforcement and firefighters, attracting large crowds along the route.
Among those locals attending were Patrick Mahany, pilot; former flight paramedic Kevin Kelble; Thomas Resignolo, prehospital services at Summit Medical Center; Maureen Maledon, flight nurse; Russ Miller, former flight nurse; Tammy Wallace, former flight nurse now with Boston Med Flight; Carrie Parkinson, former flight nurse; and Scott Phillips, director of prehospital services for St. Anthony.
“This is a true tragedy,” says Peter, who praised Kristin for her work ethic, professionalism and physical conditioning. “She set the bar.”
And Peter knows well — he’s been the assistant nurse manager for 17 years at Flight For Life Colorado.
Peter added that Kristin, a graduate of Woodland Park High School in 1987, had worked her way up the nursing ladder at Denver Health, later joining St. Anthony’s and its Flight For Life helicopter elite crew.
“Kristin was the full package of nursing skills and physical conditioning,” he adds. “We are just devastated.”
Kristin had been with STAR Flight for seven years; her accidental death was the first in STAR’s 30 years.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) grounded the helicopter involved in the incident, and STAR Flight temporarily suspended operations for their other three choppers.
NTSB investigators’ preliminary report has thus far been unable to determine exactly how Kristin’s fall of 80-150 feet occurred, Peter says.
While there are numerous helicopter rescue service operations across the country, including the highly visible orange and yellow choppers seen regularly over Summit County, Peter explains that Kristin’s STAR team is among just a handful offering hoisting rescues from difficult areas.
Most of these types of extractions are done by law enforcement and government agencies, along with the military.
The STAR Flight staff includes only seven pilots, seven nurses, seven paramedics and three mechanics.
To become a STAR Flight nurse, crewmembers must be graduates of an accredited school of nursing and hold a Texas registered nurse license with at least three years experience in a hospital care area. The company also says nurses undertake a challenging orientation program when they first start — consisting of intense physical conditioning, rescue skills education and clinical skills development.
In a statement, STAR flight director of aviation Willy Culberson said, “Kristin was a wonderful flight nurse and a very special friend. I am going to miss her with all of my heart.”
Kristin is survived by husband Winston Merrill.
Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed “Spike,” a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former Climax miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years. Email your social info to firstname.lastname@example.org
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