KUSA – Sometimes a pilot needs to learn to be a passenger. Kurt “Tug” Tongren is used to flying an F-16 for the Colorado Air National Guard. He didn’t quite know what to expect from the Flight for Life helicopter on Tuesday.
“How do you take off? Do you go straight up and then that way?” Tongren asked the pilot sitting next to him.
“It depends where you’re going,” the pilot answered.
Tongren sat upright on the stretcher inside the medical helicopter. It was the seat with the best view. It was also a place Tongren had been before. He just didn’t remember the experience from 1988.
“Thirty years ago, I was riding my bike on the side of the road and I got hit by a car,” Tongren said.
On Tuesday, Tongren brought some of his family with him to St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood to meet the people behind the Flight for Life program.
“They save lives,” Tongren said. “They saved my life.”
Tongren brought along pictures he showed Flight for Life program director Kathy Mayer.
“It was tough going back to school with that haircut,” Tongren said, showing Mayer a picture of the scar on his head. “A little over 80 stitches in my head and then I ended up having surgery on my right knee.”
Tongren said he also had a bad cut in his right ankle. He made it to the hospital thanks to Flight for Life Colorado. He wanted to come back here to say thanks.
“This is a bullet from the F-16 that I fly now and it has an F-16 on it,” Tongren said, holding the large bullet. “It says, ‘Flight for Life’ and then on the back it has an American flag and it says, ‘another life saved,’ my name and then the year.”
Tongren said thank you to Mayer and handed her the F-16 bullet.
“No one has ever given us one of these before,” Mayer said. “This is amazing.”
Mayer used to be a Flight for Life nurse. She was flying in 1988 when Tongren needed help.
“He’s coming back to say thank you for something we did for him, but in fact, he’s doing every bit as much for us,” Mayer said. “Reaffirming to our medical crew members, our pilots, that what they do makes a difference.”
Tongren will remember the gift Flight for Life Colorado gave him in 1988 and the one they gave him nearly 30 years later.
“It was a thrill to be up in the helicopter again,” Tongren said.
Shortly after the helicopter landed Tuesday, the Flight for Life crew had to respond to a call. Tongren stood on the helipad and waved the flight crew in the helicopter overhead. He watched until it flew out of sight.
“They got a call about a patient with a possible punctured lung,” Tongren said. “They were out of here in just a matter of minutes doing what they do.”