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Barbara A. Hess Memorial Fund

A tribute to our founder and first director,

and an opportunity to help continue her dream.

In the Beginning...

Barbara Hess was the founder and director of the Flight For Life Transport System. She along with Joseph Darin, MD, then Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Jim Ryan, President of Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, started Flight For Life in 1984. She waged a two-year battle with breast cancer but died of the disease on October 11, 1988, just one year after helping to start the Flight For Life-McHenry helicopter in McHenry, Illinois. Not only did she start the FFL-Waukesha and FFL-McHenry sites, she was responsible for beginning Flight For Life-International, which was a fixed wing service.

undefinedBarb began her flight nursing career with Emery Air Charter. In 1981 she was named the Program Director for Lifeline Emergency Helicopter at St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, Illinois. Then, in January of 1984, she began Flight For Life-Waukesha with a Bell 206 Long Ranger, a single engine helicopter. FFL-International followed in April of 1985 and then FFL-McHenry in May of 1987. It was because of Barb’s early vision and dedication that Flight For Life has become the transport system that it is today, committed to the utmost in safety and patient care.

She was a very determined person with a great sense of humor. Barb worked tirelessly introducing the helicopter and then the fixed wing from large cities like Chicago to small towns in Michigan. She visited former Flight For Life patients and their families, in the hospital and at their homes, making them a part of the ever-expanding Flight For Life family.

It was not just for the success of Flight For Life that Barb worked so hard, but the success of the air medical industry as well. She was an active member of the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) (formerly ASHBEAMS), serving as membership chairman and as a regional director. She was named to the National Dedicated Fixed Wing Air Ambulance Advisory Board in 1987. Later that year, Barb and Flight For Life hosted the national air medical conference (ASHBEAMS) in Milwaukee.

Several weeks before she died, Barb was recognized by her peers at the ASHBEAMS conference in Boston with the Marriott/Carlson Award. It is the industry’s highest award and is given to the individual who has demonstrated “long and dedicated service to the promotion of emergency air medical services.” Scott Air Charter, then FFL-International's airplane vendor, flew Barb to Boston to accept her award. Today there is an award sponsored by Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in Barb's name. The Barbara A. Hess Award is given to an individual who has significantly contributed to the enhancement, development, and/or promotion of the air medical community through their research and/or educational efforts.

The Barbara A. Hess Memorial Fund was established by the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center’s Board of Directors following Barb’s death in October, 1988. The Memorial Fund is supported by monies that are donated by various groups, organizations, and individuals who have benefited from the Flight For Life Transport System. The Fund was established to support educational opportunities for the development of the Flight For Life staff. It provides Flight For Life crew members with monies to be used for additional educational opportunities that are not covered by the organization. The Memorial Fund account allows for the ongoing education of present and future crew members to pursue their educational goals.

Barb was the matriarch of the Flight For Life family. As her illness progressed, flight nurses regularly went to her apartment to assist in her care. Some, such as Claire Rayford, then FFL-Waukesha Chief Flight Nurse, were there along with her mother and father when she died. It was Barb’s wish to have her ashes spread over Lake Michigan from the helicopter. Members of the team honored her request but as the window was opened to allow the ashes to float out, some of them blew back into the aircraft. Claire said that Barb must have not wanted to go and so for as long as Flight For Life flew that aircraft, a little part of Barb was along for the ride!

Losing Barb was like losing one of your own family members, it took a long time to heal. The transport system will never replace Barb but the management of Flight For Life continues to move forward into the future, carrying with them her love and dedication for a program that has touched the lives of over 33,000 patients.

Thank you Barb, from those of us who came after you, for making the dream of Flight For Life a reality.



If you would like to make a donation to the Barbara A. Hess Memorial Fund, please mail it to:

Flight For Life
Barbara A. Hess Memorial Fund
2661 Aviation Road
Waukesha, WI 53188

Thank you for supporting our mission!