In an attempt to help a patient's life Monday night, three brave hospital workers lost their own. A REACT helicopter went down just south of Rochelle taking the pilot and two flight nurses with it. The chopper was en route to Mendota to pick up someone who needed help. Three crew members, 65 year-old Andy Olesen, 40 year-old Jim Dillow, and 48 year-old Karen Hollis, did not survive the crash.
"It is with tremendous sadness that we gather here this morning and pay tribute to three heroes who dedicated their careers to caring for patients." -announced Rockford Health System President & CEO Gary Kaatz at a Tuesday morning news conference.
Andy Olesen has had a long, successful career in the sky. He served as a military pilot for 23 years and then the last two decades flying for area hospitals.
"He always wanted to be a pilot ever since he was a little kid because he had an uncle who was a pilot for TWA. That was his passion he just loved everything about it." -boasts his college sweetheart and wife of 42 years, Pat Olesen.
Flight nurses Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis also had long careers in the air. Both spent more than a decade in that position. Dillow was an experienced critical care and emergency room nurse at Rockford Memorial Hospital. Hollis also worked in critical care, plus was a Clinical Resource Coordinator and Trauma Nurse Coordinator. Unlike Olesen's two crew members, he planned to retire December 19th, and move to Texas with his wife.
"He thought 'It's time to retire and enjoy life closer to our children and grandchildren.'" -she says.
The crew's co-workers consider themselves as close as family.
"We definitely have a hole in our hearts for our family members today that are missing." -says REACT Program Director Ron Meadors.
Our media partners at the Rockford Register Star say Hollis leaves behind a husband and two young children. Dillow is survived by a wife and four children.
Earlier we reported....
Three families now have to plan for a holiday without their loved ones after those relatives raced out to save someone else. Two nurses and a pilot died Monday in Lee County when the medical helicopter they were in crashed. Besides dedicating their lives to helping others the three people inside the REACT helicopter were also a mother, a father and a grandfather.
"He was a very dedicated person and he loved life. He loved people and his job and he would do anything for anyone," says Pat Olesen, wife of pilot Andy Olesen.
He was a helicopter pilot for 18 years for Rockford area hospitals. In 2001, he explained the job to 13News. He flew for OSF's Lifeline at the time.
"It's a portable ambulance really - we go to scenes or to different hospitals in the outlying area - pick up critical patients and bring them back to St. Anthony's," says Andy Olesen in the interview.
He began his flying career in the military. He spent two decades there. There were also a couple of flight nurses in the helicopter, Jim Dillow, 40, and Karen Hollis, 48. The two both had more than 10 years in that job. Dillow was an experienced critical care and emergency room nurse at Rockford Memorial. Hollis also worked in critical care plus was a clinical resource coordinator and trauma nurse coordinator.
"Our hearts are with the families of Jim, Karen and Andy. Our Rockford Health System family and in particular their co-workers at REACT, in critical care and in emergency services are in shock," says Gary Kaatz, Rockford Health System president and CEO.
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