Holly Herron is the winner of the Lifetime Achievement award.
Holly Herron, the daughter of a physician, was certain she wanted to be a nurse at 4 years old. She didn’t know, however, that she wanted to be a nurse caring for patients in mortal peril at 2,000 feet above the ground. That desire to deliver critical care quickened her pulse while she was a nurse in Grant Medical Center’s intensive care unit. During her first years there, Grant began a trauma program and started use of a Life Flight helicopter. Having realized she preferred to care for trauma patients in the ICU, Herron wanted to become a Life Flight nurse—an even more intense nursing experience. She cleared two hurdles that stood in her way—a minimum requirement for years of experience and her mother. She told her mother she was dead set on becoming a flight nurse regardless of the danger, and conveniently, Grant waived its requirements and actually sought her out to apply. She was selected as one of four in a sea of 2,000 applicants and she never looked back. “What I could do to impact that first link in that chain of survival was mesmerizing to me,” she says.
Since, Herron has made caring for patients in a pre-hospital setting her life’s focus. Perhaps her greatest contribution to the field has been helping create remote helicopter bases placed to shave time from the critical “golden hour”—the window of time to provide lifesaving care to a patient who is critically injured or ill. Since the first base she helped set up in Wellston in 1986—just two years into her career as a flight nurse—the model has been replicated about 400 times throughout the country.
Herron describes this achievement as one of the proudest moments of her career. The remote base brought livesaving care 25 minutes closer to 43 percent of Grant’s service area by helicopter. “We were doing something that had never been done before,” she says. “Grant somehow would always stop and be receptive to innovative ideas that made sense for the patient.”
During her time in Wellston and afterward, Herron also taught healthcare providers how to identify when someone needed the extra care that a larger hospital could provide. Throughout the span of her career, she has taught more than 106 paramedic education classes. One of Herron’s many students, now the program manager for OhioHealth Emergency Medical Services, says Herron is a remarkable teacher. Barbara Dean recounts her orientation to flight nursing spent with Herron. Prior to the eight-week orientation, Dean had no pre-hospital experience. “She has raised my standards,” Dean says. “Holly has very high expectations of everybody that she works with. She, in turn, has made me have those high expectations of myself.”
There are memories of experiences over her professional life that are burned into Herron’s heart. She recalls a time when a car crash left a pregnant woman broken and facing death—and although the mother died, the baby was saved. Herron got to see him four years later. Another time, a woman was shot in the abdomen. When Herron arrived at the small hospital, the woman clutched her, begging her to keep her alive. She bled so profusely that Herron promised nothing. Somehow though, says Herron, she and the flight medic moved so quickly that the woman survived. For the next 15 years, Herron received a Christmas card from her.
“Taking care of a critically ill or injured person at 2,000 feet is the most autonomous nursing job that exists. It’s the most meaningful, it’s the most empowering, it’s the most gratifying,” she says.
Herron has retired from her 30 years of Life Flights with over 5,000 flights under her belt. Now, she is OhioHealth’s EMS director and Otterbein University’s undergraduate clinical coordinator. She teaches her life’s lessons to continue pursuing the fascinating notion that she can save people. “I couldn’t get enough of it and I still can’t get enough of it,” she says. “I love being able to touch healthcare providers in a way where they realize they can be part of making that difference for another person’s someone.” As a clinical coordinator, Herron has mentored more than 1,600 nursing students in 29 years.
Herron admits there isn’t much she hasn’t done professionally. Her No. 1 goal—to impart the same passion and sense of duty to pre-hospital care providers that she has herself—has been actualized over and over. But there is one thing left on Herron’s bucket list: to write a book that chronicles her profoundly heartbreaking and victorious experiences as a flight nurse.
“To have I-71 North stopped with all the headlights in every direction—the waters part and you land,” she says. “You walk down the freeway that you’re not supposed to be able to walk on, and all the EMS providers are waiting for you to arrive because we have always been considered 911 for 911. There’s something captivating about that.”***
The 2019 Healthcare Achievement Awards are Thursday, March 28, at The Estate at New Albany. Tickets are on sale now.