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San Diego flight nurse dubbed 'godmother of air medical services' has no plans of slowing down

This week there’s a spotlight on health care heroes. It’s National Nurses Week and KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman brings us the story of a nurse who works with patients 8,000 feet in the air.

Kelly Forman is a nurse but she does not work in a hospital or clinic, but up to 8,000 feet in the air.

"If you need us anywhere in San Diego, we can respond," the Mercy Air flight nurse said.

Over the last 27 years, Forman has been responding to emergencies across San Diego County in helicopters.

"Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, there’s a resource just like this (helicopter) and you wouldn’t really know about us until it's the worst day of your life," she said, standing outside of Mercy Air's Oceanside base.

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Carlos Castillo/KPBS
A Flight suit patch reads, "Kelly Forman, RN 'Godmother' 27 years"

Colleagues call Forman the "godmother of air medical services in San Diego." She even has it stitched into her flight suit.

"The 'godmother' came from a very special friend of mine and I thought that it had a connotation of fairy dust and sweet things," Forman said.

Forman is part of a three-person flight crew that is ready to respond at a moment's notice.

San Diego flight nurse dubbed 'godmother of air medical services' has no plans of slowing down

"It can be anything from a motor vehicle accident, it could be someone having a heart attack in the East County, it could be a drowning on the beach, we have to be prepared for everything," she said.

The specialized helicopters are sort of like flying ambulances, only they can do more. Each crew has a flight nurse and a paramedic or physician on board. It is literally an intensive care unit (ICU) in the air. Crews carry a variety of medications and are able to do transfusions mid-flight, something Forman said can be a lifesaver.

"We carry blood and we carry plasma," she said.

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Carlos Castillo/KPBS
Kelly Forman, a Mercy Air flight nurse, shows some of the life saving equipment inside of helicopters.

Every second matters when responding to emergencies and typically aircrews get called to remote locations or to scenes where patients desperately need attention.

"Starting and being able to instate the therapies right at the scene, that is huge so we make use those valuable minutes that people have that make the difference between success and tragedy," Forman said.

During her years as a flight nurse, Forman has helped save thousands of lives. Some days are tougher than others, especially when she is the last person a patient sees.

"It’s so easy, by grabbing a hand and reaching down and leaning down and saying, 'My name is Kelly, I'm going to be there for you, I'm going to take you all the way to your next doctor,' and sadly enough I have walked people all the way to the Lord and that is a really tough place to be, but that’s part of what we have to do," she said.

Part of Foreman's job is also training resident physicians from UC San Diego. She loves what she does and said to this day she still gets the same adrenaline rush for every call.

"If I could go off the passion of my heart, I would be here another 27 years," Forman said.

Now 61, Foreman does not have any plans to slow down.