Chance reunion sees Alberta woman give COVID-19 vaccine to STARS Air Ambulance nurse who saved her life

The full-circle moment comes six years after STARS Air Ambulance was called out to a collision where a truck had T-boned a car on a rural road, leaving the driver of the car fighting for her life.

The efforts of the medical crew helped save Charlotte McHugh’s life that day and it’s something she has never forgotten.

“The things that they did in that helicopter made it so I wasn’t brain-damaged, so I wasn’t paralyzed, so I could carry-on — for the most part — with my life as it was before,” she said.

Charlotte McHugh/Submitted

Shortly after leaving her farm, Charlotte McHugh was hit by a truck as it barrelled through a stop sign and into the driver’s side of her car.

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The collision

On Aug. 25, 2014, McHugh left her farm south of Calgary and was heading to her nursing job when, according to STARS, a pickup truck barrelled through a stop sign and into the driver’s side of her vehicle.

By the time help arrived, McHugh’s injuries were so severe that STARS Air Ambulance was called to the scene. But the rescue wasn’t easy and time wasn’t on her side.

Pat Jeffery, a nurse with decades of air rescue experience, and Chad Hegge, a 13-year paramedic, were on the air medical team that day.

Jeffery remembers the incident vividly and to this day is amazed at how McHugh pulled through.

“Our first landing zone was obliterated in fog,” Jeffery recalled. “Our pilot just said we will find a spot and we never gave up.”

Once the crew landed safely, they immediately assessed McHugh and found her blood pressure was so low that they couldn’t tell if she had a pulse.

“If STARS wasn’t available — I would have died, for sure. I was hanging on by a thread,” McHugh, a wife and mother of three, said.

“I’m grateful that they didn’t give up on me, because I (would) have died.”

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Among the most serious of her injuries, McHugh had a broken rib that had cut into her heart.
Among the most serious of her injuries, McHugh had a broken rib that had cut into her heart.Charlotte McHugh/Submitted

Among the hard work of her team, Jeffery also credits their equipment and the speed of the helicopter for helping save McHugh’s life.

“She would have gone into cardiac arrest, I would say, within the next five minutes… it was that close,” Jeffery said.

“We found out later that one of her fractured ribs had pierced her heart and that is considered a non-survivable event.”

The life-saving flight

In the helicopter that day, Hegge and Jeffery knew time was not on their side. They had to give McHugh two units of blood as quickly as possible and place her on a mechanical ventilator. But the efforts didn’t stop there.

The team also had to drill a needle into McHugh’s shoulder bone to give her medication to lower her blood pressure and sedated her through a tube in her throat.

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“This is one of the most technical skills we perform,” Hegge said. “One misstep may have severe consequences and that’s why a costly video device is required for the job.”

McHugh has since learned of everything the medical team did to keep her alive, and said the gratitude she feels every day is overwhelming.

Charlotte McHugh/Submitted

Three years after the accident, McHugh (middle) visited STARS to say thank you to Hegge (left) and Jeffery (right).

A full-circle moment

Three years after the collision, McHugh took the opportunity to meet some of the medical team that saved her life that day.

However, it was a recent chance meeting between McHugh and Jeffery that brought their story full circle.

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While administering COVID-19 vaccinations at a clinic in Calgary, McHugh waved over her next patient — not knowing it would be someone who gave her a second chance at life.

“I couldn’t believe that she was sitting in my chair, after all these years,” McHugh said.

“Since we met here at the hangar, I haven’t seen (Jeffery). It was just surreal to me… and I couldn’t even give her a hug.”

McHugh and Jeffery snapped a selfie together after their chance meeting and full-circle moment.

McHugh and Jeffery snapped a selfie together after their chance meeting and full-circle moment.Charlotte McHugh/Submitted

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Jeffery was also taken aback by the full-circle moment, but believes everything happens for a reason.

“Maybe in a way I helped save her life so down the road she can help save mine by giving me my vaccination,” she said.

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STARS Home Lottery

STARS relies heavily on donations to keep its helicopters in the sky, and a big part of its funding comes from the STARS Lottery Alberta.

There are 2,500 prizes featured in the 2021 lottery, including a 3,578-square-foot dream home in Calgary with an estimated retail value of $1.9 million.

Early bird tickets are available until Feb. 25, followed by the early bird draw on March 18.

STARS Air Ambulance said crews in Alberta went on over 1,400 missions last year alone.

Jeffery said she’s has had many people over the years ask if STARS really makes a difference, and her response is “you shouldn’t be asking me that question, you should be asking patients like Charlotte.”

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