UF Health Jacksonville Celebrates 30th Anniversary of Flight Program

UF Health Jacksonville marked three decades of TraumaOne Flight Services today with a community celebration at the hospital’s 8th Street campus, honoring those who have fought to save the most critically-injured patients throughout northeast Florida and southeast Georgia.

TraumaOne helicopters, manned by a team of pilots, critical care paramedics and nurses, have transported tens of thousands of people since 1985, when the program was initiated in Jacksonville by Raymond Alexander, MD.

“What makes our program so special is the people in the helicopters,” said Chad E. McIntyre, UF Health Jacksonville’s manager of TraumaOne Flight Services. “These are flying critical care ambulances that allow the medical team to begin treatment immediately once the patient is taken onboard. We don’t simply fly patients from place to place. It literally is bringing the critical care capabilities to the patient. We fight to save them once they’re in our care.”

Today, the TraumaOne fleet of helicopters is stationed at three locations throughout the region, ready to fly on a moment’s notice. Approximately 1,000 patients are now flown annually from north Florida and south Georgia to facilities for definitive care after stroke, heart attack, trauma, or pediatric emergency.

“TraumaOne Flight Services is more than a fast taxi cab - these are highly skilled critical care nurses and paramedics flying to your side and providing live saving skills hundreds of feet above the ground in very confined spaces,” said J. Bracken Burns, DO, MS, a UF Health trauma surgeon and medical director of TraumaOne Flight Services. “They are the best of the best in trauma, cardiac, stroke and pediatric prehospital care.”

The TraumaOne flight program began in 1985, when UF Health Jacksonville was known as University Medical Center. It is now part of UF Health Jacksonville’s Level I adult and pediatric trauma center, which has trauma surgeons and physicians from orthopaedics, neurosurgery and other specialty fields stationed at the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week to immediately treat the sickest of the sick.

“The pride we have in our trauma program, the physicians and caregivers who fight to save lives, is immeasurable,” said Russ Armistead, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. “I think the people in our community are grateful for the amazing services we provide, including an amazing flight services team. I applaud them for the passion they bring to work each and every day.”

Pediatric surgeon Joseph Tepas, MD, was one of the pioneers of the program in 1985 along with emergency medicine physician David Vukich, MD, and vascular surgeon Raymond Alexander, MD.

Tepas and Vukich are still part of UF Health Jacksonville and have seen the program grow from one helicopter to three, which are now based in Lake City, St. Augustine and Yulee. The goal is to reach patients as quickly as possible throughout the region treat them while they are being flown to UF Health Jacksonville or other facilities until they reach definitive care.

“We realized the crucial role flight services could play in health care, in saving lives, and designed a plan with others to bring that technology to the people of this community,” said Tepas, chief of pediatric surgery at UF Health Jacksonville. “To be a part of it from the beginning has been humbling, and to see it grow has been incredibly rewarding.”

The efforts of Tepas, Vukich and Alexander have not gone unnoticed by UF Health. Their names are now part of the fleet, with their initials emblazoned on the helicopters.

“There were a lot of people who had the foresight to realize how important a program like this could be in helping people recover from their injuries,” said Vukich, senior vice president and chief medical officer for UF Health Jacksonville. “I am proud to have been a part of its beginning.”

Featured Faculty

David J. Vukich, MD, FACEP

David J. Vukich, MD, FACEP

Senior Associate Dean for Hospital Affairs; Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, UF Health Jacksonville