In The News

George LaRue: A Defenders of Tomorrow story

May 12, 2017, 08:48 AM by Kate Krumm

On a Tuesday afternoon, George LaRue of Utopia, Texas, suffered a heart attack. Fortunately for George, Debbie Killough saw him collapse in her resale shop, Hidden Treasures, and immediately called 911 for help. Utopia’s volunteer Emergency Medical Services (EMS) ultimately received the call and rushed to the scene, where they were able to help George regain consciousness until San Antonio AirLIFE—an Air Methods program—arrived to help stabilize George and transport him to University Hospital – San Antonio, the nearest cardiac trauma facility.

This is the story of how necessity encouraged a small rural community with less than 250 residents to come together to develop a solution and critical partnership to address the life-or-death issue of untimely medical care in the face of an emergency. If not for the quick and skilled efforts of the volunteer EMS, including 22-year old Jesse Pfeiffer, and the close partnership between Utopia and the Air Methods program, George was unlikely to have survived his surprise heart attack.

“We consider them [San Antonio AirLIFE] our best friend,” said Pfeiffer. “When there’s something we can’t deal with quickly enough, we can’t get them to the hospital quickly enough, AirLIFE is the first person we call. It’s always a great experience working with them because they’re knowledgeable, they know what’s going on, they’re calm and they know what to do.”

In the 1970s, Utopia built its own local EMS, composed of dedicated, skilled volunteers and by developing a close working partnership with AirLIFE. Utopia took the unique step of substantially investing in the training of its volunteers, teaching them advanced protocols and providing certain medications generally reserved for professional paramedics, including the cardiac response techniques used by Jesse Pfeiffer to save George LaRue.

“[George] literally had zero chance of survival three years ago,” said Lee Fernandez, area manager of Air Methods. “But because his heart incident occurred in Utopia after the training and implementation of protocols, he had just as equal a chance of making it as if he had the same cardiac event right next to a large hospital in San Antonio, Texas. So when you form these relationships, these are the outcomes you have.”

Utopia recognizes the vital importance of emergency air medical services to its community; traditional ambulances could take between one to two hours to get to San Antonio, AirLIFE only takes up to 30 minutes. Utopia is not alone in facing these life or death issues. In fact, more than 85 million Americans live in rural communities more than an hour away from a trauma center by ground. George’s incredible story makes it clear that quality emergency care doesn’t begin in the hospital emergency room – it begins at the scene, the moment a life-threatening event strikes.

With the continued consolidation and closure of rural hospitals, emergency air medical transport and treatment is often the only access to lifesaving emergency care people like George have – providing access to millions of people who otherwise would not have been able to make it to a trauma center. And skilled volunteer EMS programs, like Utopia’s, serve as an important partner in the process, enabling the patient to survive until the air medical team can arrive and help.

George LaRue couldn’t be more thankful that the Utopia EMS and AirLIFE teams, working in close partnership, were able to give him more tomorrows: “I got another chance at life, I know that, so when I get well, I want to make the most out of every day. This puts everything in perspective. Thank you to the crew that pulled me out, got me ready and flew me out, got me saved. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the EMS. They did great work.”

Air Methods, the parent company of AirLIFE, delivers lifesaving care to more than 100,000 patients every year, with over 300 bases of operations serving more than 48 states. In rural communities like George’s hometown of Utopia, Texas, that kind of reach of care is critical. 

Watch George LaRue’s Defenders of Tomorrow story on YouTube.

Air Methods ( is the global leader in air medical transportation. The Air Medical Services Division is the largest provider of air medical transport services in the United States. The United Rotorcraft Division specializes in the design and manufacture of aeromedical and aerospace technology. The Tourism Division is comprised of Sundance Helicopters, Inc. and Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, which provide helicopter tours and charter flights in the Las Vegas/Grand Canyon region and Hawaii, respectively. Air Methods’ fleet of owned, leased or maintained aircraft features over 450 helicopters and fixed wing.

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