STARS focused on air rescue for 35 years

Tyson Parker, 31, chases his toddler Benjamin around the STARS air ambulance hangar at Edmonton International Airport.

They’re here visiting pilot Jon Gogan, a man who changed Tyson’s life.

Looking at this photo of the wreckage of his crash from July of 2005, Tyson Parker knows he’s lucky to be alive. (Submitted by Tyson Parker)

“We’re forever linked. It’s an amazing thing,” Gogan said.

That link goes back to July 2005 and a head-on collision that should have ended Parker’s life. The 16-year-old was coming back from a day of fun with a friend at his family’s cabin on Pigeon Lake. “We were wakeboarding there,” Parker recalled.

Four kilometres south of Leduc on Highway 2A, Parker was in a car crash. His injuries included a broken femur, broken wrist, four broken ribs, a broken nose, a ruptured spleen and a punctured lung. He was also left with a brain injury.

“I don’t remember a lot of it, a lot of it was told to me afterwards,” he said. “There’s some other stuff, I can’t really remember what they were, but it was bad.

“The fact that STARS came out there flew me to the hospital, got me to the emergency support in Edmonton that I needed, is kind of why I’m here today.”

CBC TV’s Our Edmonton takes you behind the scenes and inside the hanger of STARS air ambulance in Leduc, Alta. 3:18

See more from behind the scenes at STARS air ambulance on Our Edmonton Saturday at 10 a.m. and Monday and Friday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV and CBC GEM.

STARS — it’s an acronym for Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society — was founded in Calgary in 1985 by emergency medical physician Dr. Gregory Powell and others in the health-care system.

In the past 35 years the not-for-profit has expanded its services, flying an estimated 42,000 missions across Western Canada. 

“Our founder’s goal was to bring life-saving critical care medicine to the edge of a river, the side of a highway or the back of a yard, and that’s what we do,” Gogan said.

Pilot Jon Gogan, provincial director, Northern and Central Operations at STARS. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

A pilot and now the provincial director, Northern & Central Operations at STARS, Gogan remembers that call in July of 2005 when he first met Parker. 

“As we arrived overhead and looked down at the accident site, we could tell right away that it was incredibly serious,” he said.

Gogan describes what happens when STARS lands as “an orchestra of chaos” as emergency responders work in concert for the patient.

Parker and the other two passengers involved in that crash all lived, but that’s not always the case.

Tyson and Benjamin Parker inspecting the helicopters at the STARS air ambulance hangar. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

“We see so many sad things in the run of a month, and when you have the opportunity to change the life of a stranger, you become part of their life, of their history,” Gogan said.

He and Parker still get together every July to have dinner and celebrate.

Parker and his family have also given to the organization. Over the course of a dozen years they’ve held silent auctions and events raising upwards of $750,000 for the society.

“Life now is great,” Parker said. “Happily married, got two kids, a good job in Edmonton, so life is good — but it all goes back to it could have been drastically different.”

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