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Medevac nurse named to Order of Canada

Adam Johnson
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, January 9, 2008

YELLOWKNIFE - Praise is never lacking for Order of Canada recipients, but not every member has Northerners thanking them for their lives.

Yellowknife medevac flight nurse Patricia O'Connor was named to the Order of Canada in December. This pleases some people in Cambridge Bay, the community her air ambulance company, Medflight, services.

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Yellowknifer and Medflight founder Patricia O'Connor was named to the Order of Canada last month for her work providing air ambulance services in the North. - photo courtesy of Patricia O'Connor

"She's the one responsible for me still being around," said Sid Glawson, deputy mayor of Cambridge Bay.

O'Connor tended to Glawson when he was medevaced out of Cambridge Bay after a heart attack on Nov. 15, 1999.

A month later, he received a heart transplant at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He credits the nurse-turned-flyer with saving his life, and said she is the exact sort of person who deserves the Order of Canada.

"I couldn't say the same for some politicians," he said.

"And you can quote me on that, if you like."

O'Connor said she was honoured to be joining the order, as it marks 30 years of emergency services, more than 20 of them spent in the North.

"That's the biggest shot in the arm that anyone can ever get," she said.

O'Connor began flying in 1977, shortly after finishing her nursing degree. She volunteered for a new program to put healers in helicopters in Toronto.

"I was one of the first six to be chosen for that helicopter program," she said. From there, she moved to Fort McMurray, and to fixed-wing aircraft.

In 1984, O'Connor was recruited by St. John Ambulance to develop an air ambulance system in the North, moving to Yellowknife in October, 1985. By 1991 she had formed her own company, Medflight.

The company runs medevac services in Cambridge Bay, though in the past it has served Yellowknife, Inuvik and various points around the NWT and Nunavut.

With a great honour and about 18,000 flight hours under her belt, the 54-year-old is going to do something she hasn't done in a long time: rest.

"It's been around 60-80 hours (a week) for a lot of years," she said. "That's why I need a bit of a break."

So far, she's made trips to New Zealand to visit relatives, and has more planned in the future.

As for the award, O'Connor said she's not quite sure who nominated her but thinks she might have an inkling.

"I suspect it's people I live and work with," she said with a laugh.

"It was certainly a surprise, that's for sure."

Reached in Cambridge Bay, Glawson had one parting comment for O'Connor:

"Tell her congratulations, and thank you very much."