116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — For each milestone in their career, the air ambulance crew at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital receives a tiny gold star they can pin to their name tag.
Each star represents a certain number of important flights the staff have taken with the helicopter, such as their 250th or 500th time in the air. But the most recent pin that longtime flight paramedic Sue Mincks received earlier this month — a gold star with a tiny ruby in the center — signifies a first among the crew.
On Nov. 8, Mincks reached 1,000 flights as a flight paramedic at St. Luke’s Hospital LifeGuard Air Ambulance, the emergency medical transport service based at the Cedar Rapids hospital.
“It’s a silly thing, but it is exciting,” Mincks said, adding, “I know other people in other services that have hit the 1,000 flights milestone. It’s neat to be one of them.”
The 59-year-old from Marion joined the LifeGuard crew at St. Luke’s in 2005.
“While many have come close, (Mincks) is the first flight team member with St. Luke’s LifeGuard to reach this milestone,” Jordan Kelly, LifeGuard program manager, said in a statement. “(Mincks) has truly taken our mission to the skies and provides the health care we want our loved ones to receive.”
The helicopter came into service in February 1981, hospital officials said.
As a flight paramedic, Mincks is part of a three-member team that includes a pilot and a flight nurse. Together, they work 12-hour shifts to respond to any scenario that requires a patient to be transported quickly.
That includes responding to emergencies — such as car crashes or other incidents that result in the need for emergency medical care — across Linn, Johnson, Jones, Cedar and Benton counties.
That also entails transporting patients to other medical facilities in as little time as possible. Though its only short distance from St. Luke’s to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, Mincks said, football games and other events could increase the time it takes for an emergency vehicle to reach its destination by ground.
“It can be a mentally challenging career, and emotional, too,” Mincks said.
Before joining St. Luke’s as a flight paramedic, Mincks had worked as a paramedic at Area Ambulance in Cedar Rapids for 18 years.
She initially planned to attend pharmacy school following her undergraduate degree. But after she worked as a paramedic in an ambulance after high school, she found she enjoyed the fast pace.
“I decided to stay full-time working ground ambulance, and let pharmacy go by the wayside,” she said. “I got an associate degree in paramedicine and started working my way up the ladder, so to speak.”
Years later, Mincks still finds a lot of happiness in her job. She enjoys working with other emergency services, such as ground ambulance crews and fire departments, and says she’s gets a childlike joy anytime she can get her feet muddy.
"You never know what you’re going to get,“ Mincks said. ”You walk in, and each patient is completely different than the one before. I really do like that, it is fun.“
Mincks plans to continue her career as a flight paramedic for the foreseeable future, or at least as long as she can keep up with the physical and mental demands of the job, she said.
“For anyone interested in flying, just go for it,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it.”
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