Although Joan is best known as an inventor and aviation hall of famer, her life has been enigmatic from the start. She endured a tough childhood and credits her third-generation Irish roots for surviving it. The better parts were spent on a ranch, where her lifelong love of horses grew. She graduated from high school at 17 with a medical assistant scholarship. Her mother was a nurse, and her grandmother was a nurse, and Joan was determined to become a third generation nurse. It would take another 15 years to reach that goal.
Arizona and Nursing Studies
Straight off the ranch and still a minor, Joan lived with her wonderful Irish grandmother until she could afford an apartment in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco — on a nurse’s aid salary. She continued her medical assistant studies, married at nineteen, took courses at Golden Gate University and Indian Valley Community College, and became the mother of two sons in quick succession. In one of many twists and turns in Joan’s journey, her grandmother funded the purchase of an apartment complex in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Joan moved her sons from California to Arizona to start a new adventure — property manager, handyman, and leasing agent. All the while, she continued her nursing studies.
The Flight Nurse Call that Changed Everything
Joan became a single mother after graduating from Mesa Community College with an associate’s degree and a registered nursing license, and fast tracked her career to become a charge nurse in the emergency department, and then a critical care flight nurse. She was promoted to director of flight personnel at Air Evac (Samaritan Hospital), and in 1984 experienced the devastating loss of a young patient, Ralphie, on a remote Arizona road. As chief medical officer aboard a rescue helicopter, and with her paramedic assisting, she did everything possible to save the little boy, but it wasn’t enough. That’s when a seed was planted — how could she improve the medical outcomes of passengers in the most remote places on earth?
Entrepreneur and Telemedicine Pioneer
Medical kits were in the news. Airlines were using first aid kits designed by Johnson & Johnson in 1924, updated in 1950s and nothing since! Legislators and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), albeit reluctantly, were looking at upgrading these kits. What if this is my opportunity to start a business? Joan thought. This idea became a three-legged stool — medical kits, training, and telemedicine. In Joan’s words:
So now…drumroll… came what some, indeed, thought was impossible. I developed a way to connect flight crews, while aloft, with ground-based doctors by using communication channels such as high frequency radio, satellite, and teletype transmissions, for instance, Aeronautical Radio, Incorporated (ARINC, established in 1929), and its Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS, available in 1978). We subscribed to this teletype messaging service to allow communication with an airline’s dispatch and cockpit when needed. The only other forms of communication in the 1980s were hospital systems that linked remote clinics to specialist consultations as well as some larger hospital systems providing base station support for the EMS community.
My own background as a flight nurse was an inspiration —the ability, on occasion, to radio an ER doctor from the field and obtain additional recommendations in order to improve the outcome for a patient. By the way, this is why I loved my flight nursing job. I was able to autonomously use my brain and training without waiting for an order from a physician, unlike my grandmother and those who worked in a traditional hospital setting.
I named “Leg Three” of our three-legged stool “MedLink,” the missing link between inflight emergencies and board-certified emergency physicians. We offered a connection to the global communication systems in place among aircraft operators. I’m not sure why no one else had conceived this innovation. It was an untapped market and an earth-shaking development that would take us to new heights, quite literally. The fact was, the full-blown components — a triad of products and services offered by my startup — had never been attempted specific to the methodology and presentation to the aviation industry. Imagine wrapping your head around that notion! It meant stepping off a cliff and into a risky venture, somewhat frightening but also exhilarating.
A Life-Saving Legacy
All Joan ever wanted to do is save lives, and is renowned in the aviation and maritime sectors today for doing just that — on a global scale. Her determination, sacrifice, and the intricacies of running an international business are detailed in her book.
Below are resources that detail a remarkable life, serendipitous moments, adversity, innovation, masterful courage, and the special relationships forged with MedAire customers through the years. Joan’s “a handshake is a hug” motto went a long way in retaining customers, some since the inception of the company.
Joan’s longstanding friendships with leaders in aviation are detailed in the book — an example for the entrepreneurs of today who want to learn about Joan’s “secret sauce” which brought such success to her team.
- Meet Joan
- Ralphie’s Story
- Advance Praise
- Who Should Read This book?
- Joan the News
- Joan’s Awards
- Media Q & A
- Sell Sheet