Making a difference just another day for pilot, nurse

The exploits of Andrew Lang and Sandy Turbes seem bigger than life itself.

On many days, they are like any other hard- working Minnesota residents enjoying the rural lifestyle of Minnesota. On other days they live to make a difference.

Lang has spent half his life serving his country. First he was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot with the U.S. Army National Guard and was deployed twice to war zones. His first mission was in 2007 with the 2-147th Assault Helicopter Battalion in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, he was deployed with the 34 Combat Aviation Brigade in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and later Operation Inherent Resolve.

He also works as a parks supervisor for Renville County. And last year, Lang was elected to the Minnesota State Senate in District 17.

Turbes worked more than 20 years as an emergency room and intensive care nurse. Her experience includes labor and delivery, high risk pregnancy and nursery. She’s about living life — saving lives. In her spare time she developed a program that she presents across the state called “Life Can Change in a Heartbeat … Make good decisions.” This program deals with drinking and driving, drugs, alcohol, teen suicide and seat belts.

And her passion for life is what connects her to Lang on several days a week. Those are the days they strap themselves into a 2006 Agusta Spa A109S Rotocraft helicopter. That’s the aircraft that I found Lang and Turbes standing next to when I met them at the Marshall Fire Station Thursday night to observe Fire Safety Week.

Lang and Turbes work for North Memorial Health flying to the region’s worst accident scenes. Their flight path can take them from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls and Redwood Falls to northern Iowa.

“I love it. It’s the greatest job in the world with the best office view,” Turbes said as she helped curious people look inside the helicopter on display. She normally sits in the back of the aircraft as the flight nurse.

Turbes also quickly pointed out her job is difficult at times.

“We are showing up on people’s worst day of their lives and you make a difference in that moment of their life,” she said.

Lang sits in front of the aircraft at the controls making every second count.

“I love it. It’s fast-paced, I’ll tell you that,” Lang said. “With these guys (North Memorial Health) there is a lot of, hey, no kidding, someone’s life is on the line. They don’t call for us stubbed toes. Usually it’s hurry up, let’s go. Have all your stuff ready to go, get in the aircraft and go — as fast as it (aircraft) will start and move out and get going.”

When not flying to rescue people suffering from trauma, Lang and Turbes spend their normal shifts with North Memorial Health inside a four-bedroom apartment inside a hangar at Redwood City Airport. When the emergency call is made, Turbes said everybody is ready to respond.

“It’s pretty intense and we are very busy,” she said. “It’s whatever people are busy doing. If they are farming, it’s farm accidents. If they are four-wheeling, boating — it depends on what season people are in. So in the winter people hibernate. That’s our quiet season. But right now this is our busy season because everybody is out doing their thing and working — getting hurt doing it.”

Of course it’s Lang’s job to get Turbes to the scene and transport the injured person quickly to a hospital.

“Once you get the patient buckled in and ready to go, it’s (aircraft) pretty quick. It cruises pretty good,” he said.

Even with all of its challenges, Turbes still cherishes her work.

“Everybody has their worst shift day on what they seen or had to do — and patients are dying. You are always having that worst shift day and you have to process that. So those (bad shift days) always stand out, but there is like a file in back of your brain. You have to put them (worst days) in that file and keep moving forward,” she said.

And moving forward makes all the difference in the world to somebody who is at risk of dying.

“There are traumas you will never forget,” Turbes said. “(Body) parts are laying (at scene). I mean you just don’t forget. But again, it’s to somebody else — it’s their worst day — and you are making a difference in that day.”

And making a difference is just another day for Lang and Turbes.

You can follow Mike Lamb at Twitter@indymlamb