A Down Syndrome patient in the ICU inspired to get back on his feet thanks to caring nurses and a Life Flight helicopter

kyle bruce helicopter wide

Recovering in a Respiratory ICU unit is always challenging, but for Kyle Bruce, who has Down Syndrome, the change in routine and surroundings made it even more difficult. It was a Life Flight helicopter that came to his rescue, and it did so without ever leaving the ground.

kyle bruce hospital
Kyle Bruce still remembers his trip to see the Life Flight helicopter.

Kyle had been rushed to Intermountain Medical Center’s Emergency Department because he had pneumonia and was having difficulty breathing, his mother Shadra Bruce says. At one point his heart stopped and he needed an emergency tracheotomy to get air to his lungs, she says.

“It was bad. Very bad,” she says. “Everybody, your entire team — your respiratory techs, your nurses, your surgeons, everybody in the hospital and everyone in ICU — was incredible. They saved his life.”

A week later, as Kyle was recovering in RICU, Naomi Dale, RN, was trying to motivate him to walk around the unit. She found out he was fascinated by the Life Flight helicopter that’s often parked on the helipad within easy view of the floor’s windows. She convinced him to get up, walk down the hallway, and go to a room where he could look down on the helicopter. But to his disappointment, when he got there, the helicopter had been called away, Naomi says.

kyle bruce life flight hat
Kyle Bruce shows off his Life Flight hat.

The next day Katelyn Siano, RN, RICU’s engagement chair, decided she wanted to take Kyle to the helicopter and let him see it up close from his wheelchair. She made a phone call to Life Flight and they were ready to receive him in minutes. Arranging the visit, however, was more complicated than getting the helicopter doors open. Everyone who went downstairs with him — including his respiratory therapist and Katelyn, who was the charge nurse that day — had to be replaced in the ICU if he was to make the visit. Katelyn also had to get permission from Kyle’s doctor to take him out of the unit and outside the hospital.

“There were several departments that had to be involved to get Kyle to the helicopter pad,” Katelyn says.

All the pieces came together and as Kyle rolled out the elevator doors on the ground floor, several people were waiting to cheer him on. Word of his visit had spread, so when he went through the Emergency Department on his way outside, caregivers waved at him and shared in his excitement, Naomi says.

“That amped up the situation,” she says. “The caregivers were really supportive.”

kyle bruce helicopter visit
Kyle Bruce got his own personal tour of the Life Flight helicopter.

A Life Flight nurse, Brent Palmer, RN, met Kyle when he came outside. Naomi remembers seeing the expression on Kyle’s face when he was rolled up to the helicopter.

“He looked super, super excited,” she says. “Kyle couldn’t speak at the time due to the emergency tracheostomy he’d had, but you could tell just by looking at his face and his adorable eyes how happy he was. His eyes were huge, just like saucers.”

Brent showed Kyle some equipment and let him touch it.

“A couple of us had tears in our eyes because it was so amazing to watch Kyle,” Katelyn says.

Later Brent paid a visit to Kyle in RICU to give him an official Life Flight hat — something Shadra says he treasures.

Kyle’s parents once lived in Utah but when they moved away, Kyle wanted to stay behind where he felt comfortable, so he did with the help of a personal aide.

kyle bruce life flight hat
Kyle Bruce shows off his Life Flight hat.

“We live in New York so we were far away and couldn't come out right away when he got sick,” Shadra says. “And so your nursing staff was sort of a surrogate family for our boy, and it really made a difference.”

Kyle has moved into a new place that can offer him the additional care he needs now, and his parents came to Utah to help him adjust to his new home, Shadra says. When they talked about the helicopter experience, he lit up with a smile and insisted the first pictures they put up in his new room were photos of him with the Life Flight helicopter.

She thinks the helicopter incentive the nurses pulled off helped him recover.

“I think when you’re in the ICU anything that makes you smile is going to help you get better,” Shadra says. “It was really an amazing experience for him and it just shows how much you guys really care about your patients.”