Fond farewell to Flight Nursing

Flight nursing took Maatje Hiko to new heights in her career and saw her successfully manage Hawke’s Bay’s first in-flight cardiac arrest on a helicopter.

“It’s always interesting and challenging at times,” the Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand Associate Clinical Nurse Manager (CNM) for Flight and Transport says.

The Hawke’s Bay Flight Team is the busiest in the country, completing more than 2200 patient transfers a year.

When Maatje (Marti) started flight nursing the patient was directly in front of the nurse’s seat in a single-stretcher unpressurised Piper Seneca. As needs have increased, so have the size of the planes.

Maatje has clocked up 15010 flight hours as a flight nurse, transferring more than 2000 patients by both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft.

Flight Nursing requires specialised one-on-one care for patients who are being transferred both to and from tertiary and rural hospitals.

“The most important thing to do is your preparation on the ground and always prepare for the worst-case scenario.”

This was the case when a patient went into cardiac arrest mid-flight over the Kaweka Ranges in a squirrel helicopter. Maatje shocked the patient successfully, they returned to Hastings and met an Intensivist on the tarmac who took the patient to the Intensive Care Unit.

Maatje went home that night, washed the patient’s pyjamas and sewed the buttons back on ahead of her successful transfer to Auckland.

“You have to think outside the box and provide clinical, holistic and cultural care, which I did when returning a palliative patient home to the Chatham Islands – as his final request was to die at home.”

Maatje’s longest mission included seven take-offs.

“We went from Bridge Pa to Napier to pick up doctors flying to Wairoa for outpatient clinics. Then it was to Gisborne to collect two cardiac patients for Waikato then on to Auckland to return two patients to Hawke’s Bay!”

Maatje has had her fair share of turbulence, including when the plane dropped about 400 feet on descent off the Wairarapa coast – fortunately, there was no patient on board at the time.

“We always had a lolly jar in the aircraft and that day we had a lolly scramble!”

And then there was the time when the wheels wouldn’t engage to land in Gisborne.

“We were circling for 15 minutes and then on the last attempt the wheels engaged and we landed safely.”

Nursing and especially Flight Nursing has been Maatje’s life and she’s excited about her upcoming retirement after more than 40 dedicated years working at Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

Maatje started her nursing training in 1974 and qualified as a Registered General Obstetric Nurse in 1977. She worked in Gisborne Hospital before moving to Napier Hospital in 1981 where she worked in ICU and Coronary Care Unit (CCU).

When Napier and Hastings hospitals amalgamated she moved to Hawke’s Bay Hospital, as a Registered Nurse in CCU. Maatje was a founding member of the flight team in 1999. She went on to become the Flight Team Coordinator in 2012 and in 2017 the ACNM for transport.

“I feel privileged to have worked in this role and for people to have entrusted patients into my care, All the trust, support and respect I’ve had from colleagues and patients have enabled me to have a truly amazing flight nurse journey.”

Maatje wants to acknowledge Dr Ross Freebairn, Dr Mike Park, Dr Miles Williams, CNM Jackie Hardy, former flight nurses Sally Houliston and Steph Boston as well as Avon Grimmer who worked side-by-side with her for 22 years.

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