Saving Lives, Shaping
When auto accidents occur
on interstate routes throughout the Rocky Mountain region, Elisabeth Abel
'88 could be one of the nurses who flies to the scene to provide medical
attention to injured passengers. Unlike the stereotypical image of nursing
that involves charts, blood pressure readings, and routine exams, Abel
works as a flight nurse for Airlife Denver, a critical care transport unit.
"We respond to critically
ill or injured people," Abel says. "We work with the emergency personnel
who are already on the scene. After we stabilize the victims and get them
into the helicopter, we make every effort to maintain their condition and
get them to a hospital."
The medical team airlifts
victims to the nearest facility best equipped to handle that specific trauma.
Airlife Denver has two helicopters, a Lear jet, and an ambulance to navigate
the five-state region that comprises Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas,
and New Mexico. Because Abel specializes in advanced care, she does not
need to call a doctor for orders to treat patients during the airlift.
"There is a tremendous amount
of autonomy," she says. "We use a book of policies and procedures that
covers most of the conditions we encounter, but if something arises outside
those parameters, we use our judgment to do what's best for the patient.
That's why a nurse needs so much experience in critical care."
Abel acquired that kind of
experience while working with intensive care pediatric patients at Loyola
University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois, and the University of Chicago.
Formerly Elisabeth Brown of Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, she and her husband,
Larry '88, moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, two years ago to start her
"I've known since high school
that I wanted to be a critical care transport nurse," Abel says. "It's
a stressful job because I see people when they are not in good shape, but
it's the perfect job for me. I'll keep doing it until I can't climb into
the helicopter anymore."
Abel handles some administrative
duties as well, one of them as the education coordinator for Airlife. Each
staff member must be apprised of the latest medical developments to be
prepared for whatever emergency they may face, and Abel makes certain that
her team has access to the best information available. She also plays an
important role in personnel matters by interviewing candidates and training
new staff members. All of her responsibilities sometimes add up to a 48-hour
The precarious circumstances
that she encounters provide opportunities for her to demonstrate and lean
on her faith. It may not be written in her job description, but she feels
compelled to offer some spiritual support and perspective to her co-workers
and her patients.
"In this field, you need
to spend time comforting and reassuring the victims and their families,"
she says. "Although I'm not allowed to pray unless they request it, I do
tell them that I'm praying for them. That kind of encouragement helps my
medical team as well. Sometimes the constant trauma takes a toll on us,
so we have to keep each other going."
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