Editor’s note: The latest in an ongoing series marking MidState Medical Center’s 20th anniversary.
MERIDEN — When Life Star helicopter lifts off from MidState Medical Center, Tricia Margarido is focused on the tasks at hand.
“You're not really thinking about the emotion that is attached,” Margarido said. “You're just focused on getting the patient the care they need and getting the mission completed.”
Margarido, 46, has been a respiratory therapist with Life Star for 17 years and has taken on more leadership responsibilities over the years, now serving as a medical crew manager.
The Boston-native said when she first started the job she didn’t expect to stay long, but it has been the perfect combination of her previous respiratory therapy and emergency medical service experience — working in ambulances and intensive care units, including neonatal and pediatric ICUs.
“You have days where it’s challenging, but to be able to help people in that time when it's their critical moment is a blessing,” she said.
Margarido said sometimes after they drop a patient off in the ICU or emergency room, she’ll see the families and start to process the emotions of the call.
“I think we each try to remember we gave them the best we can and then that's how you rest easy, that they got the best chance and the rest was sort of out of control,” Margarido said.
During shift change, colleagues will stop and chat with each other about what happened during the previous shift and the entire team has meetings to go over challenging calls.
Margarido said they are trained in identifying signs of stress in themselves and others.
“We have to trust each other, communicate with each other, to make it a successful mission,” Margarido said. “Not one person could go out and do the calls without the others.”
The Life Star team has about 50 members, including communication specialists, maintenance workers, flight nurses, respiratory therapists and pilots.
Hartford HealthCare operates the critical care helicopter for the state and beyond. Two years ago Life Star’s base of operations in Central Connecticut was relocated from Hartford Hospital to MidState Medical Center.
Bringing the hangar to the MidState campus has improved emergency response times, said David Lowell, executive vice president of Hunter’s Ambulance Service.
When looking at the state and the runs the helicopters were making from Hartford Hospital, it made sense to relocate to MidState, said longtime MidState President and CEO Lucille Janatka, who retired in December.
"We found it increased our volume and the location has served us very well," Janatka said.
The two other hangars are at Baystate Hospital in Springfield, Mass. and Backus Hospital in Norwich.Embracingthe unknown
Each team member has to be able to continually learn new skills and have a broad knowledge base, as they handle a wide variety of calls, including heart attacks, car accidents, and transporting a very sick patient to another hospital for specialized care.
“You just have to be ready to embrace the unknown situations,” Margarido said.
The ability to work with other disciplines is also important for team members along with liking — or at least tolerating — flying in a helicopter, she added.
Dr. Lauri Bolton, Life Star’s medical and program director, said many people are qualified for the job, but not everyone can learn the extra skills that are necessary, like functioning on a helicopter with night vision goggles.
“I think attitude and being able to work with a team is the most important (characteristic) because you can give a lot of that training to almost anybody that's had the prior experience, but they have to be able to work well with a team, in a very confined and high risk environment,” Bolton said.
Margarido loves spending time with her family, and her two daughters, ages 3 and 6. Her husband is active in the National Guard and worked in EMS also.
Together they travel often to visit family in Ireland, where Margarido’s parents are from, and Portugal, where her husband’s family is from. This year they visited her ancestor’s farms in Ireland.
“That was very special to me to have my parents and my children see that together,” Margarido said.