To Ralphie Lopez, the eight-year-old patient who died in 1984 after an accident on a remote road in the San Tan Mountains of Arizona. Your life and death had meaning and ultimately propelled me to found MedAire — a global company that saves lives on air, land, and sea.
CHAPTER ONE (excerpt)
“He really was a special gift from God,
and it turned out that he had a special purpose.”
~ Glenda Summers, mother of Ralphie
Many of my friends and colleagues already know the backstory that inspired the founding of MedAire — a heart-wrenching event that redefined the way I viewed remote emergency medicine and also my role in the medical community.
However, many reading this book may not know about the tragic loss of life that changed everything in my world. At that time, I was a flight nurse and veteran of critical care and emergencies, trained to compartmentalize the trauma of severe accidents and fatal injuries and focus solely on the crisis at hand. When every second counts and every decision can potentially save a life, there is no time for emotion.
But there was that one day, a summer day in 1984, when all the training in the world didn’t help. An eight-year-old boy died after being injured in a rollover accident on a dirt road in the San Tan Mountains of Arizona. It still haunts me as I write these paragraphs, nearly four decades after the fact. I can still smell the helicopter’s Jet A fuel. See the dust. Feel the sweltering hot Arizona sun and the adrenaline sweat in my flight suit. But most of all, I remember the enormous frustration that I was not able to save the little boy’s life.
This is Ralphie’s story as much as mine, a tribute to him and the family who still loves him. In fact, whenever I ever spoke about this event, I always referred to Ralphie as “Tommy” to protect his identity and out of respect for his family. But I can now reveal his name, Ralphie Lopez. I’ve reconnected with Ralphie’s mother, Glenda Summers, after all these many years. It’s such a great honor to feature her in this book, for this is her story too and the first time her perspective has been so publicly shared.
Together we detail the chain of events on that fateful day, me from a medical perspective (albeit emotional), and her as the mother of three who lost her eldest and only son, a very special son. I credit Ralphie as the posthumous hero whose life and death pointed me toward my visions. It was the jolt of lightning that ultimately sparked a vast improvement in global travel safety. Yes, one short life truly made an impact in the founding of MedAire.