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STARS In the Sky Saving Lives

Moments after I met our fourth son, Emery, my health went downhill rapidly. A scheduled C-section had led to profuse bleeding. “I have to put you to sleep now, Bonnie,” a doctor at our local hospital said in my ear. I awoke two days later in ICU to learn I had nearly bled to death following complications from my surgery. I learned I was in critical condition when STARS arrived, and I was running out of time. Using their skills and knowledge, my air medical crew stabilized me en route to hospital enough that I would survive surgery. It’s amazing what these people can do in the back of a helicopter! Since my mission, I have shared my story with friends and strangers every chance I get. I launched a Mother’s Day fundraiser in my rural community and donated more than $18,000 to STARS. Volunteering my time is the least I can do. Without STARS, I would not be here. My husband, Dayle, would be raising our four boys alone, and that would have left a big hole in our family.

—Bonnie, STARS Very Important Patient

These days, everyone recognizes the red helicopter when they see it flying. It means that somewhere in our province, someone needs help, and STARS is on a rescue mission. STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service) is fast becoming an integral part of Saskatchewan’s health-care system, helping save lives every day. With bases in Regina and Saskatoon, STARS has flown more than 4,000 missions to 500 communities across the province since its launch in 2012. “We’ve been serving the people of Saskatchewan for five years, and, with our partners in the chain of survival, we’ve helped save thousands of lives,” says STARS spokesperson, Mark Oddan. “That’s what motivates us every day of the year—knowing that when our helicopter leaves the base, it’s on its way to help someone in need.”

STARS got its start in Calgary in 1985, when STARS founder Dr. Gregory Powell lost a patient. His patient, a young mother, died enroute to hospital from her rural home because ground transportation was too slow when time was of the essence. Dr. Powell had worked as a physician during the Vietnam War, and had seen helicopters used by Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) units saving lives simply by being faster for patients to get to medical care. He founded what would become STARS, and the first mission was carried out December 1, 1985. Since then, STARS has become part of the cultural fabric in Alberta, and stretched out from its first base in Calgary to include Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. “We have a remarkable history,” says Oddan. “And the needs of the communities we serve grow every year.”

In Saskatchewan, STARS carries out three missions per day on average. For a province of 1.1 million people, that’s a remarkable number. “Saskatchewan is a big province, and its population is widely dispersed,” says Oddan. “This means that someone requiring urgent medical care can be hours away by ground from a hospital. That’s where we come in—significantly reducing transport times, with medical care and equipment on board that you’d find in an ICU.” The STARS flight crew consists of a critical care nurse, an advanced life support paramedic, and two pilots. In cases of extreme medical assistance, emergency transport physicians also fly with the crew, and they are available for telephone consultation during every mission. STARS captains have a minimum of 3,000 hours flying experience and are trained to fly with night vision goggles. Plus, the helicopters also have powerful search lights and can land on highways, fields or any area deemed safe.

STARS provides a much-needed service in Saskatchewan, and half of their funding is paid for by the provincial government. The other half comes from fundraising in the community, including corporate donations and of course, STARS’ eponymous home lottery. The 2017 STARS Lottery Saskatchewan will be the biggest ever, with more than 2,000 prizes worth more than $4 million combined. There are two homes to be given away—one in Regina and one in Saskatoon—each worth $1.5 million, professionally decorated and fully furnished with front landscaping. There’s also an early bird truck and luxury sport boat package, seven vehicles, eleven vacations, a ton of home electronics and experiences and the lottery’s popular 50/50 draw. That draw last year was worth $775,500. “We’re incredibly excited about this year’s lottery, as it offers fantastic prizes for a worthy cause at an affordable price,” says Oddan. “Tickets are only $60 each, two for $100, six for $250, or twelve for $375. And your name is eligible for every draw of every prize.”

However, the most important part of the STARS lottery isn’t the winning. It’s the giving. Not only does STARS impact the lives of the patients it carries on missions, it also touches families and communities every day. 4,000 missions in five years is way more than a number. It’s literally giving people another chance at life. $60 isn’t much to ask, knowing that it will give someone and their loved ones the very best gift of all.