August 17, 2018

32 Years and 3,000 Flights – Recognizing Barbara Sawyer

By Krista Gregg

Mountain Area Medical Airlift (MAMA) has been providing critical care transport since 1986. Behind the scenes, MAMA flight nurse Barbara Sawyer has witnessed it all.

“In 1986 when this program (MAMA) started, there were very few flight nurses in the entire world. And even fewer in North Carolina,” said Johnny Grindstaff, Mission Air Medical Supervisor. “Thirty-two years, in fact, is the amount of time Barbara has been with our program.”

After 32 years of service, Barbara is being recognized for an incredible milestone – one that no other flight nurse in the MAMA program has ever reached: 3,000 safe air medical transports.

With a room full of her greatest supporters and closest colleagues, Barbara was surprised with two beautiful and well-deserved plaques, one from the Mission Health MAMA team and another from Airbus Helicopters.

“I was not prepared for any of this,” said Barbara. “I want to say thank you to everybody. It’s been 32 years. Lots of miles.”

Barbara has been a registered nurse for 40 years, beginning her career in Florida. After moving to western North Carolina (WNC), she met her husband, who formerly served 27 years with Buncombe County EMS, while on duty with MAMA.

Barbara was the first chair for MAMA’s quality improvement team, and she is the strong arm behind MAMA scheduling. “It’s only because of her hard work and diligence that we have never had the aircraft out of service because of staffing,” said Johnny.

What’s more is the immeasurable impact she’s had on team members and the greater WNC community. “She helped me become a crew member and a flight nurse,” said Johnny. “She’s a mentor, she’s a mother and she’s a friend to us all.”

From the entire Mission Health team, thank you, Barbara.

Mission Health has been providing critical care air transport through Mountain Area Medical Airlift (MAMA) since 1986. Learn more about MAMA on