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News MAMA program on track to expand to three helicopters

The Mission Foundation is working to raise $2 million to increase the helicopter fleet at Mission Hospital. If the project is completed, Franklin will be a permanent house for one helicopter. Photo by Vickie CarpenterAt the Franklin Day-Break Rotary Club meeting Tuesday morning, representatives from Mission Hospital presented a plan to acquire one more helicopter for the MAMA (Mountain Area Medical Airlift) program. The MAMA program currently serves 18 counties in Western North Carolina, operating two air ambulances; one located in Asheville and the other in Franklin.

The program began in 1986 and has made an estimated 18,600 flights to help those suffering from life threatening medical issues. In the last three years, there have been about 150 times that people needed the MAMA helicopters only to find out that they were busy.

“Our region is growing, we have more and more people who find these mountains to be a beautiful place to visit and live and as a result, the demands for medical services continue to increase,” said John Locke, director of Philanthropic Initiatives at Mission Health Foundation. “We have a phenomenal resource in the [MAMA program]. We have assessed this program over the last few years and unfortunately, we have found that we are not meeting the need of our growing region. As a result, we have looked at the redesign and redeployment of the resources we currently have.”

According to Locke, this strategy would mean that the services and crews would be made more available to WNC regardless of what else may be going on. If a third aircraft was acquired, the one that currently sits at Mission Hospital in Asheville would be moved to a hangar being built in Henderson County while the new one would be positioned in Burnsville providing service to Madison, Yancey, Mitchell, Avery, and North McDowell counties. The remaining one would be left in Franklin. As a result, MAMA would be able to provide 20 minute “to the scene” response to the most people within the wide WNC region.

Johnny Grindstaff (L) and John Locke presented the plan to provide a third air ambulance in WNC. The program grew from one to two helicopters in 2004.Temre Gillig attended the meeting to share her experience with MAMA and to offer her gratitude for two occurrences where MAMA was able to help her family members.

“My father and my daughter were in a bad wreck. He broke his neck and had other injuries, but thanks to MAMA he is still with us six or seven years later,” she said.

Recently, she had another experience with the helicopter service when her 14-year-old son became trapped between a vehicle and a tree. Once the car was moved, he was airlifted to Asheville.

“Today, he's doing just fine,” she said. “We are so thankful for the crew and especially thankful that our call wasn't one of the ones where they were busy.”

Two of the MAMA crew members, Johnny Grindstaff and Josh Reese were also in attendance.

“We do a lot of career days at high schools and somebody always asks, 'what's the worst thing you've ever seen?' said Grindstaff who is a MAMA supervisor and flight nurse. “I'll tell you all the same thing I tell them. Close your eyes and imagine the person you love most in the world, now imagine the worst thing that could happen to them. That's what we see, but with the use of the air ambulances, we can deliver services very fast and help these people who need us the most. Yesterday we had two flights, Sunday we had three, and Saturday we had two. In the last three years there have been approximately 150 times that we've had to tell somebody that we're too busy.”

The Mission Foundation has a goal of reaching $2 million in order to expand the program. If interested in making a donation, the Foundation can be reached at (828)213-1020 or www.missionfoundation.org/campaigns/projects/funding-priorities/mama.


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