A Race Against Time: How Flight for Life Saved a Father’s Life

February 2, 2024
Flight for Life helicopter

It was while enjoying one of his longtime favorite pastimes, snowmobiling on a crisp February afternoon, that Michael Metzdorff’s life changed forever — leading from those open snow-covered trails to a journey on Flight for Life that ultimately saved his life.

Clouded by sudden confusion, he knew, with a gnawing urgency, that he needed to get home — fast. Within hours, Metzdorff’s condition worsened, the initial confusion morphing into a terrifying reality.

“My wife recognized that something was wrong with me as I was confused and unable to follow simple directions,” he recalled. “She and my daughter had to convince me to travel an hour on snow-packed mountain roads to CommonSpirit Mercy Hospital in Durango.”

Once there, the emergency team quickly determined the best course of action for Metzdorff’s care. After conducting a thorough assessment and a brain scan, Metzdorff and his family were informed that he had lesions on his brain that required specialized treatment at a higher-level medical facility.

As Metzdorff’s life hung in the balance, Flight for Life, one of the first hospital-based air ambulances in the U.S., founded in 1972, became the lifeline that would rapidly transport him to the critical care he needed.

Flight for Life is part of the CommonSpirit health network, providing critical care transport with five helicopters, three ambulances, and three airplanes operating out of the Denver metro area, Summit County, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and Durango.

“In a matter of minutes, it was determined that my only option to live required me to be flown to Denver by Flight For Life, where I would have brain surgery,” Metzdorff said.

Brian Bloom, a critical care registered nurse who has worked on Flight for Life for four years, said their team jumps into action following that initial determination and patient information.

While the paramedic team prepared for transport, the flight nurse comforted Metzdorff and his family, assuring them they were in capable hands.

“The world of air medical transport is a strong collaborative effort involving all parties,” Bloom said. “Safety of patients and crew members is top priority to carry out a mission. Our pilots constantly evaluate weather patterns and scene terrain, EMS agencies play a huge role in designating safe and secure landing zones for us, and crew members are able to notify the receiving hospital during flight to ensure that all necessary medical personnel are present in the room upon arrival.”

Without his wife or daughter able to accompany him on the journey, Metzdorff relied on the expertise and care of the Flight for Life team as they soared through the skies towards Denver, faint sounds of “Give Me Shelter” by The Rolling Stones playing in the background.

Metzdorff said that training and the transport team’s collaboration to move him quickly allowed him to receive life-saving treatment for metastatic melanoma, a disease occurring when cancerous cells from a tumor spread by traveling through the lymph of blood, causing a new tumor elsewhere.

“I was able to have brain surgery within a few days,” he said. “I would not have been strong enough to endure the oncology treatments had Flight For Life not been able to expedite my arrival in Denver.”

Today, Metzdorff is four years into his recovery and continues to credit Flight for Life with saving his life.

“I’m told that very few people survive the kind of cancer and treatments that I have, and I know I’m here because of Flight For Life and the exemplary care that I received,” he said.