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If you love being a nurse, but also love to travel and fly like Sue Treseder, BSN, RN, then being a commercial flight nurse might just be a great gig for you.
Founded in November 2016, Flying Angels is a medical escort service that provides nurses to fly with patients who are stable but have medical needs. They travel on commercial flights with patients all over the world. Treseder, a charge nurse at Virtua Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department, has been working with them since their inception. Overall, she has been doing this kind of work for about 12 years. Averaging about 20 trips per year, Treseder says that she has been all over the United States and all over the world.
“These patients have a wide range of medical issues. Typically, they fall ill or sustain an injury while they’re away from home and need assistance getting back. We also transport patients who need to get to a different hospital for specialized care. For example, we might take someone with a spinal cord injury to a facility that specializes in that particular niche,” explains Treseder.
Here’s how it works: a coordinator with Flying Angels makes sure that everything with the sending and receiving parties is arranged so that all patients have what they need at all times. They get special clearance from airlines if they have to bring equipment along such as oxygen. And nurses travel the entire way with the patients—from one bedside to the next.
Before they can work for Flying Angels, nurses are trained in flight physiology and also have to pass a test before flying. Once this is done, they can fly with patients.
“It is a paid position, although most of us love what we do so much that we would probably do it for free!” says Treseder.
While flying with patients, Treseder says that she talks with a lot of them. “We’re usually like best buds by the time I drop them off,” she says. “Often there are hugs, tears, and pictures at the end of the trip.”
There are reasons why they can become so close, so soon. “Most of our patients find themselves in seemingly impossible situations. Often, they are in hospitals in a foreign country where they don’t speak the language and the care may be of significantly lower quality than they would receive at home,” Treseder says. “They’re frightened and overwhelmed, as are their families. A huge weight is lifted off their shoulders once we get involved.”
Although she loves what she does, Treseder has had some challenging experiences. She’s flown with patients who have psychiatric problems or dementia. “They sometimes act out during a flight and are difficult to redirect,” she says. “Human behavior is always the toughest thing to prepare for.”
Sometimes, she says, the most difficult cases can also be the most rewarding. “I had one patient who was in Atlanta visiting his nephew when he tripped and fell, and sustained a spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic and on a ventilator. He lived in a remote part of China. The logistics of getting him home were formidable, between getting the stretcher and ventilator through the two airports (connecting through Seoul), carrying all the equipment (we had to buy extra seats on the plane just to accommodate all the medical gear), to arranging the 12-hour ambulance ride through the back roads of China — this was a really tough case,” admits Treseder. But the payoff was worth it. “When we finally got there, the family was waiting, along with a crowd of locals and the news media. The outpouring of love and gratitude was overwhelming, and it was just such a great feeling to know we had performed this service for this man and his family.”
One place Treseder hasn’t been to yet is Australia. “But I’ll get there one of these days,” she says. Besides just seeing new places, though, Treseder has also learned a lot. “Although cultures around the world are very different, we have more in common with each other than you might think,” she says.
To learn more, visit www.FlyingAngels.com.