Duke Community Gathers to Honor Duke Life Flight Team

Duke community members and area first responders take a moment before the memorial service Wednesday. Photo by Jared Lazarus/Duke Photography
Duke community members and area first responders take a moment before the memorial service Wednesday. Photo by Jared Lazarus/Duke Photography

Duke employees, emergency medical services teams across the region, and more than 150 current and former Duke Life Flight team members and their families filled Duke Chapel Wednesday to honor the lives of the three Duke Life Flight team members and patient lost in the recent helicopter crash.

The memorial service followed an emotionally draining week during which most Life Flight team members attended the funerals for their colleagues Life Flight pilot Jeff Burke, Life Flight nurses Crystal Sollinger, RN, and Kristopher Harrison, RN, and their patient Mary Bartlett, LPN.

A line-up of speakers that included Duke University President Vincent Price; Duke University Chancellor of Health Affairs and President and CEO of Duke University Health System Eugene Washington, MD; and Duke University Hospital President Kevin Sowers, RN, MSN, FAAN, were joined by Life Flight nurse manager Rene’ Borghese, MSN, RN, CMTE, Life Flight pilot Guy Randell and Life Flight paramedic Steve Wilson.

Sowers celebrated the lives of the Life Flight employees and spoke to the need of the Duke Hospital family to be connected with their greater purpose.

“For years, I have challenged the staff at Duke Hospital to consider their connection to something bigger than themselves – a greater purpose, a higher calling – because there is a sweet risk to life inherent from birth,” said Sowers. “It’s the same for each of us; it’s what connects us all. And, when your last day has come and the breadth of your compassion and the expanse of your love can surpass even the capacity of Duke Chapel, then I consider that a life well lived.

Borghese shared that all members of the Life Flight team have one thing in common – a strong desire to save lives.

“This desire in and of itself doesn’t make them different from the amazing teams of clinical professionals who work in the hospitals and clinics,” she said. “What sets this group apart is their desire to do so while putting themselves in harm’s way. And, without the safety net of an entire health care team, they simply depend on each other.”

LifeFlight Program Manager Rene’ Borghese, RN, addresses the crowd during a memorial service honoring three Duke Life Flight crew members Randell shared his thoughts about being a Life Flight pilot.

“I come to work every day excited to be here; this is my joy,” he said. “I choose to serve as a pilot, and every day I go to work it is a delight. Not only do I get to do a job I love doing, I get to enjoy the highly skilled and professional people I get to work with. My fellow pilots are seasoned, experienced and humorous. Our mechanics approach each and every day with professionalism and form an integral part of our team. Our medical teams tackle some of the most difficult situations imaginable. And watching over us every day are our communicators.”

“This is our calling,” added Wilson. “Duke Life Flight begins a new day and a new chapter tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. We can all contribute toward the healing, rebuilding and prosperity of the families impacted, Duke Life Flight and the Duke Health system. Our colleagues would want our Life Flight team to move forward and carry on the missions, the next patient transport and to take care of each other.” 

Chancellor Washington closed the service using the story of the Good Samaritan. 

“The members of our Duke Life Flight team were being good Samaritans on the morning of Sept. 8 when they airlifted a patient in need of care to Duke University Hospital,” said Washington. “That patient, Mary, was a good Samaritan. We know we have lost four good Samaritans. For many reasons voiced today, we also know that we have lost four great individuals.” 

After the service, the attendees gathered in the quad outside the Chapel for a moving last call tribute to the Life Flight team and patient, and a flyover, including nine helicopters from medical flight services throughout the state.

Members of Duke Life Flight leave the memorial service Wednesday. Photo by Shawn Rocco

LifeFlight RN Molly Mayhood and daughter Bailey, 10. LifeFlight RN Molly Mayhood and daughter Bailey pause outside Duke Chapel after the ceremony. Below, community members and first responders gathered at the chapel after the service. Photos by Jared Lazarus.

Duke colleagues and first responders gather outside Duke Chapel.