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Millie Fincke, who helped found LifeFlight, saved lives and mentored nurses

Wes Venteicher
| Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, 12:36 p.m.
Millie Fincke is pictured along with other LifeFlight nurses.
Millie Fincke is pictured along with other LifeFlight nurses.
Mildred 'Millie' Fincke, a founder of LifeFlight, died Sunday at age 90.
Mildred 'Millie' Fincke, a founder of LifeFlight, died Sunday at age 90.

A LifeFlight helicopter is scheduled to fly over Mildred Fincke's funeral Wednesday as a tribute to her work helping establish one of the nation's first medical helicopter programs.

Fincke, who died Sunday at 90, pressed Allegheny General Hospital's board of directors to launch LifeFlight in 1978, when just a few cities had air medical services, according to an Allegheny Health Network spokeswoman.

The nurse and emergency services administrator, who went by “Millie,” saved lives and mentored nurses, former colleagues said.

“I think there are ton of people who owe Millie a great debt of gratitude, and they've never even heard of her,” said Cece Peterson, 60, of Cranberry, a LifeFlight nurse Fincke hired in 1981.

Fincke died following a short illness, according to her obituary. She lived in Bridgeville and was born in Etna.

Fincke started advocating for an air transport program after she learned about one of the first non-military air medical programs at a 1975 conference in Denver, AHN spokeswoman Stephanie Waite said in an email.

“It took her a few years of badgering, but finally LifeFlight became a reality,” Waite said in the email.

Colleagues said Fincke's career likely hinged on the success of the program, which sped up transports from rural hospitals to Pittsburgh hospitals and from accident scenes to hospitals. The program proved successful, colleagues said. It still serves Pittsburgh, along with the STAT MedEvac air service.

In addition to convincing the AGH board to launch the program, Fincke played a major role developing one of the first programs to train nurse practitioners, who are more advanced than registered nurses, in the 1970s at AGH.

“She had very high expectations, and she also was able to see the talent in individuals that maybe you didn't see in yourself,” said Denise Ramponi, one of the nurses Fincke hired to start the LifeFlight program.

Ramponi, 63, of McCandless, said Fincke pushed her to become a nurse practitioner and to write a chapter for a book on advanced nursing practices. Now, she is an associate professor at Robert Morris University, where she teaches a Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

“She pushed people to their highest abilities,” Ramponi said.

The Fincke family has been receiving calls from nurses across the country expressing condolences, said Jamie Fincke, 65, of Uniontown, Millie's son.

Despite her accomplishments, his mother stayed humble, he said.

“She would have never asked for any of this,” he said, adding, “My mother could've created a cure for cancer and never taken credit for it.”

Jamie Fincke said he might describe his mother's primary trait as “plain determination.”

“When (she) set her sight on something and knew it was the right thing to do, she was very dedicated to getting it done,” he said.

She retired at 66, he said.

Visitation was scheduled from 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Neely Funeral Home in Glenshaw and a funeral service was scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Etna. A LifeFlight flyover is scheduled for the funeral if weather permits, Waite said.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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