MAMA Helicopter Flight Paramedic Embodies Personal and Community Pride

MAMA helicopter

MAMA Helicopter

By Erin Young and Robert A. Poarch

“One of the fascinating parts of the job is that we never know what we’re going to come across on any given day, but we’re prepared for facing the gamut.” – John Carrico

John Carrico has been a flight paramedic on Mission Hospital’s MAMA (Mountain Area Medical Airlift) team for six years. With a brand new, advanced helicopter for the team, it’s a job that he takes a great deal of pride in.

Joining the MAMA Team

“The MAMA team is a really an exclusive team to be a part of and not easy to get, because when a lot of people get this job, they don’t leave,” said Carrico. Before joining MAMA, he worked as a paramedic for 13 years and another seven years as a 911 medic. Carrico also trained as a critical care paramedic before joining the team.

Carrico acknowledged that training, but also luck, played roles in him joining the MAMA team. “So, it’s a combination of having experience, of being a leader, and having the right amount of education. And, just for the opportunity to present itself. And, it did,” he said.

Always Prepared

“One of the fascinating parts of the job is that we never know what we’re going to come across on any given day, but we’re prepared for facing the gamut,” said Carrico, noting that about 38 percent of their calls are trauma related.

MAMA crew members are trained and prepared to deal with just about any emergency, including heart attacks, strokes, and septic patients. That also includes, he noted, the many different symptoms and syndromes of pediatric patients.

“Each challenge is a little bit different. And, that’s what we like about it,” said Carrico. “As part of the flight team, one of the things that we pride ourselves in is that it doesn’t matter how sick you are, we are going to take you.”

The MAMA crew consists of the pilot, a nurse, which can be for an adult or child depending on the emergency, and a paramedic. They work twelve-hour and twenty-four-hour shifts, similar to their equivalent clinicians who work in the physical hospital buildings.

“We all have jobs that we work on when we’re not flying,” said Carrico. “My job is in education, so I co-chair our Education Committee, and we do all our training and on-going education.”

Working Hard

The MAMA team averages one flight a day. The helicopters don’t fly in bad weather. In nice weather, it’s not uncommon for them to do two or three flights in a twenty-four-hour shift. Carrico has flown as many as six times in a twenty-four-hour shift.

“And, we’re just absolutely whooped after doing six flights in 24 hours,” said Carrico. “There’s a lot of stimulation. There’s the noise of the aircraft, the vibration, the exhaust, the constant changing of altitude. Plus, just the going from sitting around to being focused. It is really tiring. And, we kind of forget that when we come to work, because it just becomes part of the job.”

The Benefits of a New Helicopter

Carrico and the rest of the MAMA team are excited for the new helicopter that arrived in early November. This new aircraft replaced one of the existing Asheville aircraft. Advanced technology and more space are two major improvements over the older model.

“Because of the technology and more fuel, we can do more flights. This larger model allows us to move around a little bit more and access our patient a little bit more,” said Carrico. “It allows us to take more sophisticated equipment with us, so that we can take even more critical care patients — like ECMO patients or patients on balloon pumps. It allows us to expand the care that we can provide.”

MAMA and the Community

“Western North Carolina has a lot of pride in the MAMA helicopters. They know it. They identify it,” said Carrico. “Kids all point every time they see MAMA. It’s an identifiable resource that the community is really proud of.”


Learn more about the Mountain Area Medical Airlift [1] program and Emergency & Trauma Care services at Mission Health.