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Magic Valley 4-year-old reunites with Air St. Luke's crew which flew her during RSV bout

Braylee Sanderson sits on the lap of Air St. Luke's flight nurse Jessica Knapp and is joined by pilot Tim Allen, left, and paramedic Bill Gully, middle.
By Kelly Franson, News and Community
December 4, 2023

Braylee Sanderson’s eyes were wide as she entered the helicopter hanger at St. Luke’s Magic Valley.  

“For like the last two weeks this is all she’s talked about,” explained her dad, Justin. “She tells everybody ‘I get to go see the helicopter!’” 

The Air St. Luke’s helicopter she was so excited to see was a little bigger than she was expecting, and Braylee was a little overwhelmed. Thankfully, the crew that had assembled to meet her was patient and kind with the suddenly shy 4-year-old. 

This wasn’t the first time that flight nurse Jessica Knapp and paramedic Bill Gully had met Braylee. When she was 11 days old, the Air St. Luke’s team was called to Hazelton when Braylee stopped breathing. 

Baby Braylee had developed respiratory syncytial virus, more commonly known as RSV. RSV causes acute respiratory tract infections in people of all ages and can cause severe illness and even death in infants and children with certain health conditions.  

Approximately 58,000-80,000 children under the age of 5 and up to 3% of children in their first year of life are hospitalized due to RSV infection each year in the United States.  

“Per information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children will get an RSV infection before the age of 2 years, and 20-30% of children infected will develop a lower respiratory tract infection, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia,” said Dr. Scott Snyder, neonatologist at  St. Luke’s Health System, adding, “At St. Luke's Children's Hospital, RSV infections are the most common reason for admission to our Pediatric wards during the winter months, and often occur in infants who were previously in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit."

Braylee Sanderson pets security dog Mack while visiting the Air St. Luke's crew in Twin Falls.

Four years after Braylee was flown to St. Luke’s, there’s hope that the number of hospitalizations for RSV will be reduced thanks to a new vaccine given to mothers who are 32-36 weeks pregnant, and an antibody immunization available to infants born during RSV season. 

“Four years ago, you would have been in a different helicopter, but it looks the same on the outside,” Gully told Braylee, adding that she could call it “her helicopter” if she saw it flying outside in the future. 

Braylee had heard the story of taking a ride on the helicopter with her mom, Leah, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to climb inside and check it out. 

A visit from St. Luke’s Magic Valley security dog Mack, and a sheet of Air St. Luke’s stickers that said “co-pilot” finally brought a smile to her face. Braylee agreed to let Knapp lift her up into the helicopter for a closer look as her family cheered her bravery. 

“This makes lots of noises, that’s our ventilator,” Knapp explained to the 4-year-old. “Get ready for the beep—it’s going to tell us it’s awake!” 

Braylee’s grandmother, Katina Ellison, made the 911 call back in 2019 and she’s also the one who reached out to Air St. Luke’s to arrange the reunion. 

“Thank you will never be enough to say about this picture,” she shared on Facebook after the family’s visit with the crew. “Beyond blessed that Braylee got to meet the flight crew that blessed us with her 4 years ago ... to hear her say thank you to them and their smiles will forever melt my heart."

About The Author

Kelly Franson is the public relations manager at St. Luke's Magic Valley.