Shandy Walls: Thank Your Lucky STARS

Heritage Group Meeting of January 15, 2015

Shandy Walls

Shandy Walls

Packed into Room A137, Heritage Group members were decidedly STARStruck hearing this month’s guest presenter, Shandy Walls, Media Manager for Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society. Shandy began with our own Steve Lipischak’s rescue drama, then shared the moving video of Michelle Salt‘s dramatic STARS experience. We were hooked.


Steve Lipischak

Steve’s was a cottage country rescue, a case of all-too-common foolishness turning to disaster. Working alone atop a ladder, Steve fell and was so badly injured that the STARS team actually lost and revived him twice before they could get him to the trauma centre at Health Sciences in Winnipeg.

Michelle Salt


Michelle’s emergency was the result of an evening motorcycle crash in June 2011. Not only had her right leg been shattered upon impact, her femoral artery had been severed, causing her to almost bleed to death. She spent 7 days on life support and 5 months in hospital recovering, ultimately losing her leg 10 inches above the knee. Neither Steve nor Michelle would be here today but for STARS.

Shandy took us back to the very early days, when STARS founder Dr. Gregory Powell was still a university student working with surgeons in a MASH unit in Vietnam. The memory of helicopters swooping in from battlefield to sophisticated surgery in 20 minutes never left him. When he later became director of emergency medicine at Foothills Hospital in Calgary, he was frustrated by the high number of trauma deaths that could have been easily prevented with earlier intervention. The final straw, which he talks about to this day, was a young woman with a perfectly normal pregnancy who came in from Eastern Alberta and died just before she got through the door because of a stuck placenta. That’s when he decided to try and fix things.

Dr. Greg Powell

Dr. Greg Powell

Powell lassoed a couple friends and together they went $250,000 in debt to start the service by renting time on helicopters. While out on missions, the flight crew would help defray fuel costs by selling red baseball caps for $5 to onlookers as the medics tended to the patients. The number of flights in those early days depended on how much fuel they could muster from those sales.

The rotary air ambulance program, initially named Lions Air Ambulance Service, was established with seed money from the Lions Club. Its first mission was transporting a critically ill infant to tertiary care in Calgary in December 1995. Today, with more than 13,000 flights logged, STARS is internationally recognized as one of the best emergency response teams in the world for moving patients to safety.

STARS was first asked to provide service in Manitoba during the flood of 2009, and then again in 2011. The province now budgets ten million dollars per year under a ten year agreement signed in 2012 for STARS to operate a helicopter EMS program out of its Winnipeg base. STARS own fundraising helps to reduce that amount. In 2012 and 2013, for example, STARS operated under budget and credited a $2.4 million surplus to Manitoba Health. Manitoba patients do not receive any request for repayment of the costs of their STARS transport.

Though the service is often criticized for being very expensive, both Shandy and Steve spoke passionately of how STARS undeniably saves lives, that there is no other effective alternative, and that more community support (and more helipads!) is needed. Commonly thought of as a “rural” service, Shandy underlined that Steve and Michelle illustrate that any one of us could someday have call to rely on STARS. Very few Winnipeggers have not spent time in cottage county, driven Manitoba’s highways, or visited outlying communities.

For more information on how you can support STARS, please visit their Ways To Donate page. Like Steve, you can also volunteer or share your story as a former patient.


  • An average flight costs $5,400
  • Maintenance on Human Patient Simulator mannequins cost $4,000
  • Sending an outreach team to train partners in the community is $750
  • Medical flight helmets are $1,300
  • NVG equipped helmets are $2,700
  • Medical equipment is $1,000 per helicopter
  • An oxygen tank refill for each mission costs $25
  • A 100 hour helicopter maintenance check costs $450
  • Each BK117 medically equipped helicopter is $5 million

Categories: All, Guest Speakers

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