Elizabeth Bellipanni – MDCC Nursing Alum Soaring as Air Evac Lifeteam Nurse
She’s afraid of heights. But that doesn’t stop Mississippi Delta Community College Nursing School alumnus Elizabeth Bellipanni from tending her duties as an Air Evac Lifeteam Nurse. Scouring the Delta from the air, Bellipanni and her crew helicopter into emergency sites to provide critical care as first responders.
The Indianola Academy grad first began her college education at Delta State University while she was teaching dancing lessons in Greenwood. But it was her neighbor and relative, Debbie Poe, who convinced and inspired her to come home, Moorhead.
“I came home and finished up my pre-reqs and then got into nursing school,” Bellipanni said. “I graduated in 2016 with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing.”
She then took a job at South Sunflower County Hospital as an emergency room nurse. Online classes at MUW provided her with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing in 2017. She worked in the emergency room for four years and worked some part-time shifts at Delta Regional in Greenville. But a year ago April, she decided to add some wings to her emergency room care. She took a job with Air Evac Lifeteam out of Greenville as a flight nurse.
“I had never flown in a helicopter before and I was scared to fly. I can’t even get on the ferris wheel at the carnival,” she said. “When you fly in a helicopter its smoother than an airplane. It’s not scary at all.”
Her time in the emergency room was critical as her new job required three years of emergency room experience or ICU.
“When I’m standing on the highway in the middle of a wreck, I’m basically doing the same thing I was doing in the emergency room,” Bellipanni said. “You’re working in a small space in a helicopter and you have to make it work. You’ve got to be creative.”
Her typical day at work begins at 6:30 a.m. for a 24-hour shift. At shift change, she and her partner take over the narcotic keys and radio. They take in any vital information from the previous shift then do an aircraft check to “make sure every single thing is on the aircraft and that it’s in its place and adequate.”
The flying emergency room has everything from oxygen to blood on each flight. They are then briefed by the pilots who pull a 12-hour shift. Bellipanni works a week of 24-hours on, 24-hours off, then gets a week off before repeating the cycle.
“They tell us what the weather is going to be like that day. Then we review our charts from the previous crew. This provides accountability and education for everyone,” she said. “It’s a learning curve all the time. We all want to get better all the time.”
Most of the pilots she works with are former military pilots with plenty of experience flying in all kinds of situations and weather.
Serving a 70-mile radius from Greenville, sometimes the unit gets called to make a longer flight when needed. Her first day was memorable.
“My first flight was a stroke patient and we went to St. Dominic’s. My second flight was the same day, an on-scene flight. We land where the ambulance is. We met them at an airstrip in Shelby and took them to Memphis,” she said.
With nearly 100 flights under her belt, Bellipanni enjoys the adrenaline rush of her job and first realized that while working in the emergency room.
“I like taking care of really sick people,” she said. “I really enjoy flying because my patient needs me. They are critical and this job is rewarding because I know I’m making a difference in their outcome.”
Everyone has to be buckled up for take-off and landing but while in the air, she and her partner can unbuckle and perform medical procedures and care in a tight space.
“There is no room to stand up, if you do, you have to bend at the waist,” she said.
As excited as she was to take the Air Evac Lifeteam Nurse position, her parents, Karla and Domino Bellipanni – former Athletic Director at MDCC, were less enthusiastic.
“Their initial reaction – they were very quiet,” she said with a laugh. “They were nervous about it but now that they see all of the safety aspects, they felt a lot better.”
Part of that safety includes a checklist before every take-off and every landing.
“The pilot gives us a checklist and we give him a checklist. The pilot checks us off on our medical equipment to make sure everything is on board,” she said. “They make sure we are secure and the patient is secure. When you have a critical patient on-board, it’s easy to leave something and not realize it. We have a checklist for the pilot that includes instruments and gauges, caution and warning lights and risk assessments and make sure the fuel is good. We do it again right before we land.”
Her favorite part of being an Air Evac nurse is a scene flight.
“I like the EMS aspect of it because I didn’t get that before. Now being one of the first on-scene and getting them where they need to go is my favorite. I’m on the front line and making a difference in the patient’s outcome.”
While at MDCC, Bellipanni enjoyed being under now retired teacher, Debbie Gantz and the aforementioned Debbie Poe and their classes.
“She (Poe) was very influential in me doing well in nursing school and had everything I needed. She would check in on me even before I took her classes,” she said. “It was special to be in her last nursing school class before she retired. Gantz would tell stories that made me realize I was going into the right profession. I was so interested in what she had to say. She was an excellent teacher and very easily kept my attention and that’s not always easy to do.”
Bellipanni had dreamed of becoming a nurse even as a child.
“When I was little, my dad would bring me to Community Bank to watch the medical helicopter land. When I started working in the ER and would watch them fly patients out, I knew that would be a dream job.”
When she’s not flying across the Delta saving lives, Bellipanni enjoys CrossFit workouts and her two dogs keep her busy.
Elizabeth Bellipanni – a Trojan alum flying high as an Air Evac Lifeteam nurse and saving lives across the Delta.