House Heroes:  Care from the air

Married medics Brian and Ruth Parsell have saved countless lives and are believed to be the first husband-and-wife team in the world to crew an emergency helicopter service.

After dropping their two kids at school, doctors Brian and Ruth head to a hangar rather than the office – ready to jump straight into action for critical-care aeromedical charity CareFlight.

Every day sees this inspirational couple flying to emergencies across greater Sydney to transport and treat critically ill and injured patients

“I worked on a lifesaver rescue helicopter for 11 years before moving to CareFlight as an aircrewman in 1997,” says 49-year-old Neil, who swam at national level and spent many of his younger years as a volunteer surf life saver on Sydney’s beaches.

“At the time I was also working as an intensive care paramedic with the New South Wales Ambulance Service and CareFlight had a formidable reputation across the world.

“The organisation’s commitment to patient care and advancing pre-hospital and retrieval medicine was a drawcard for me.”

I love the organisation and the vital role we play in the community – that sense of dedication, commitment to task and family spirit.

For doctor Ruth, 41, the journey to providing care from the air took a different route.

After working as an ambulance paramedic in southwestern Sydney, she says her exposure to a huge variety of cases out in the field and her regular contact with the CareFlight medical teams sparked a passionate desire to study to be a doctor.

“Studying medicine, then working as a junior doctor, was a long process – made longer by having two children in those first few years as a doctor,” Ruth explains.

“I was lucky to be exposed to CareFlight right from the early years because by that time, I was learning even more about what the doctors did there through my husband.

“I had already been a Careflight groupie for a long time before I was actually an employee!”

The couple admit not all days are positive as not every outcome can be positive, but they use humour to keep a positive vibe within the team.

CareFlight also provides search and rescue support to the Australian Maritime Authority.

Its helicopters are equipped with night vision capability and winches allowing the crew to locate and rescue people in the dark and from difficult to access places.

It all makes for a far from ordinary work day for our House Heroes couple, but they take it all in their very well-qualified stride.

“I love the organisation and the vital role we play in the community – that sense of dedication, commitment to task and family spirit,” Brian says.

Learn more about  CareFlight and read more about how volunteering is good for you. For more inspiring stories, check out our House Heroes archives.