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ONE LAST FLIGHT: First Parkview Samaritan helicopter crew member retires his flight suit

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 11:14 PM EST
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) - The last of the original Parkview Samaritan helicopter crew is retiring, everyone knows him as ‘Andy from the helicopter’ or Cletis ‘Andy’ Gilbert.

“Back up to 1979 I was a college student at IPFW studying pre-med,” Gilbert said.

He says he bounced around working in the Parkview ER, as an EMT, and even a paramedic for Three Rivers Ambulance Authority.

“I went back to Parkview, in 89,” he said. “Funny thing happened, I got called into the office one morning. They said, we’re starting a helicopter and we’d like you to be on it.”

November 18th, 1989 he took his first flight. In fact, it was the first ever Parkview Samaritan helicopter flight. His crew was the only emergency medical helicopter in northern Indiana. They covered a 100 mile radius.

One Last Flight
One Last Flight(Fort Wayne's NBC)

“We flew to Coldwater, Michigan, picked up a guy having a heart attack and flew him to Parkview Randallia where we were based at the time,” he said. “I had taken care of a lot of heart attacks on the ground before, but it’s different in flight. You can’t hear anything.”

Gilbert was a flight paramedic and eventually he became a flight nurse. He says he fell in love with the job.

“I was pretty sure I was making a difference,” he said. “Then in 1998, I died. I was dead for 10 days. My helicopter flew me to IU and I was not expected to come home.”

Gilbert says later in that job he got sick, acute liver failure, and his crew had to fly him from Parkview to IU Health. He says he was so sick, machines kept him alive but ten days later he woke up.

“After going through that, I realized what it’s like to be on borrowed time,” Gilbert said. “These people we have flown, I understand how they feel now. They’re on borrowed time.”

One Last Flight
One Last Flight(Fort Wayne's NBC)

He worked as a flight nurse for 32 years, but last week he hung up his flight suit for good. His last flight was Thursday with his wife Staci by his side. He says she’s also a flight nurse and that’s the first time they’ve flown together for the sake of their children.

“It’s gonna be hard not being Andy from the helicopter,” Gilbert said. “Listening to the helicopter crank up, the smell, the sound of her starting up and shutting down. To think that I wouldn’t hear that anymore. But it was good. It was a good last run.”

Gilbert says he knew it was his time. With the pandemic going on, he was worried for his own health and his age possibly affecting his care for his patients.

“I wanted to go out while I was still able to perform,” he said. “I didn’t want to go out less than 100 percent.”

One Last Flight
One Last Flight(Fort Wayne's NBC)

He says he understands how difficult it is for healthcare workers right now, but if you’re hearts in it you can keep going.

“All I’ve done for 32 years, is try to make a difference in somebody’s life,” Gilbert said. “I think in the long run, I had a job that I got more than a paycheck.”

Gilbert says he’s leaving the Parkview Samaritan behind to his wife. He now plans to spend his time with his kids and his grand kids.

For more information about Parkview Samaritan and Gilbert’s story, click here.

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