Thrive by IU Health

December 20, 2019

Mother & Daughter Nurses Soar

Someone once told Dianna Voida that being a Lifeline nurse was one of the toughest jobs she’d ever have. Her response: “No, raising children is the toughest job I’ll ever have.”

Voida is the mother of Vanessa Scott, 27, also a Lifeline nurse, and Whitney Scott, 22, also a nurse. “You’re so emotionally involved with your kids and you never stop worrying when you’re a mom,” said Voida, 54.

It is that same “mama bear instinct” that has carried her through 25 years of patient care – 20 have been spent flying the skies in a Lifeline helicopter.

There’s the pink nail polish on a little girl’s toes, the coupons in a mom’s purse, the baby pictures inside a man’s wallet . . . all connections to Voida’s heart. When she’s at the scene of tragedy, it’s those small things that remind her of the humanness of each victim.

“Every transport I think, ‘if this was my family member how would I want her to be treated? If this was my mom or my child how would I want them to be treated?’” said Voida, who flies out of the Columbus port. Scott flies out of Lafayette. They don’t fly together – it would be too chancy having family members on the same flight.

****

Voida didn’t always want to be a nurse. She entered Indiana University exploring various majors. Then one day, she got into a cadaver lab and was in awe. “I couldn’t believe how cool it was,” she said. “I can still remember sitting on the grass outside the nursing school and watching the helicopters taking off. I decided then that I wanted to be a critical care transport nurse.”

She started her career at IU Health Methodist Hospital. Scott remembers shadowing her mom in ER when she was about 10. And like her mom, she went to college uncertain of her career path.

“I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field but I wasn’t sure what,” said Scott. She got her nursing degree and began her career in Methodist ER – just like her mom. A year ago she became a Lifeline nurse and continues to pick up shifts at Methodist.

“When the Lifeline nurses come in, people always say, “they’re the best of the best,’” said Scott. “I guess I always knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Although they are based out of Columbus and Lafayette, most of their Lifeline runs bring them to Indianapolis where critical patients receive specialized trauma care, said Voida. Her peers, because of all the jewelry she wears – even when she’s wearing her flight suit, affectionately call her “Princess Diana.” On one run, Scott was the Methodist nurse who signed off on the patient handover from her mom.

“She was so excited, that she said she was going to make a copy of the signature and frame it,” recalls Scott. “The truth is, I’m proud of her. I call her every day and ask her if there was something I could have done differently.”

****

The flight nurses typically work 12 and 24-hour shifts averaging a 36-hour week. Their bases are set up similar to a house and include sleep rooms, a kitchen, and computer stations to chart their runs. When they’re not in the air, they’re often completing extra training and advance certification.

“If you are on a 24-hour shift – you have time to take a nap just like a fireman,” said Voida. “We are based at an airport because if bad weather comes in they can move the aircraft in a hangar protected from snow or ice.

“We don’t take unnecessary chances. None of our pilots are hotdogs. They’re always asking if we are comfortable with the weather conditions,” said Voida. “If it’s bad weather, we have a saying, ‘three to go, one to say no.’”

When the calls come, they race to the copter with the pilot and a partner – either a paramedic or EMT. Time is of essence. If there’s a tailwind they can travel at speeds up to 100 miles an hour.

“You could land in the middle of an interstate or in a cornfield. It can be pitch black and you have no idea what you’re getting into. Sometimes the scene is so chaotic people are running toward you looking for you to pull a miracle out of your pocket,” said Voida.

Like her collection of jewelry – from the multiple ear piercings to the bangles at her wrist – Voida’s flight suit pockets are fully loaded - filled, with syringes, scissors, stethoscopes, sanitizer, and more.

“I’m impatient. I want to have it all on with me when I land. Once I’m at the patient’s side, I want to start working,” said Voida. “A boy at one scene was asked, ‘Who is the nurse?’ He said, “the one who looks like she fell into a tackle box,’” Voida recalls with a laugh. What she doesn’t have in her flight suit, she stores on her cot, including blood replacement and IV fluids. “Some people don’t think I’m her daughter because I don’t wear a lot of jewelry and I don’t carry half the stuff she does,” says Scott.

LifeLine_mom_daughter

During landing, the crew is counting on emergency personnel on the ground to guide them in safely. “Working in the Brown County area is tough with the Hoosier National Forest,” said Voida, where she has seen numerous motorcycle and hunting accidents. “It’s like pot luck. You never know what you are getting into. You could be the first responder or there could be advanced EMTs on the scene providing basic life support until we get there.”

Traumatic amputations, severe burns, life-threatening strokes . . . those are the grave circumstances, but it’s the whole person that the first responders think of. “You see pictures of this beautiful smiling teen and then you see the burns. You see parents who aren’t going to survive and a child in the back seat,” said Voida.

Her eyes begin to water as she describes a prom night accident where one of the passengers died. She admits that she misses the opportunity to follow up with patients. “We can look them up in the data base but it’s not the same as going in and talking to them. Sometimes I just don’t know the rest of the story,” said Voida.

“It’s something different every day. It’s always a challenge and you know you have to bring your A game because it’s just you and your partner,” said Voida.

For Scott, it’s the abused child with broken bones, and the elderly lady who fell and hit her head that haunt her. “There is always someone who reminds me of someone close to me – like a grandma,” said Scott, who visited the elderly woman on her birthday, with a teddy bear and balloon in hand.

“It’s important to remain humble about the care I give,” said Scott. “There is still so much I don’t know and I’m willing to learn. I’m still going to classes, still reading, and still asking others how I can do better.”

Voida admits there’s a rush in navigating uncharted territory.

“My husband retired and he asked when I would retire. I said, ‘when I can’t climb in and out of the helicopter.’”

There’s the adrenaline yes, but there’s also the newness in each flight.

“Every patient is different and none of them read the medical text book so each situation is unique,” said Voida. “I say a prayer before each flight – this is someone’s mom, their daughter their child and I don’t want to do anything that will worsen the outcome.”

--By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health. Reach Banes via email at

T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

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