July 24, 2016

Partly cloudy

Local nurse flies sick, injured aboard an airborne ambulance

By Bill Roser Jr.

MONTVILLE TWP. — At 18, Deanna Dague-Harris drove a stick-shift school bus for Medina City Schools.

Today — 27 years later — she’s still responsible for transporting vulnerable people.

Deanna Dague-Harris, chief flight nurse for Metro Life Flight. Her flying ambulance is an $8 million Eurocopter EC145. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL THOMAS)

But instead of children, her passengers now are the critically sick and injured aboard an airborne ambulance.

Dague-Harris is the chief flight nurse for Cleveland Metro Life Flight’s helicopter.

As a youngster, Dague-Harris didn’t want to fly — she wanted to fight fires.

“I had some friends who were on the Medina Township Fire Department,” she said. “I found out about the co-educational Boy Scouts Explorer Program.

“At the time, I was too young to join the fire department, but the Boy Scouts Explorer Program gave me a hand-on exposure to firefighting.”

As soon as she graduated from Medina High School in 1986 and turned 18, Dague-Harris took the 36-hour basic firefighter exam to become a volunteer firefighter.

After that, she attended the Medina County Career Center to earn her certification as an emergency medical technician.

But she didn’t have a job that paid a salary. To earn money, she drove a school bus and took a series of second jobs.

The first was working as a waitress at Perkins Pancake House in Medina. Later she moved to the Dairy Queen at state Route 18, near the Interstate 71 interchange.

While being a volunteer firefighter/EMT didn’t pay, it gave her direct exposure to the Medina Hospital Emergency Room. That got her thinking about a career as an emergency room nurse.

Dr. Elaine Nichols, dean of the Nursing School at the University of Akron and also a Medina resident, advised Dague-Harris to get a bachelor of science in nursing and become a registered nurse before starting a family.

“That was the best advice I ever got,” said Dague-Harris, who lived with her parents, John and Peggy Dague, of Medina, after graduating high school.
“My parents were nervous because I didn’t want to go to college,” she said.

She enrolled at The University of Akron in 1989 and received her bachelor’s degree in 1992.

Her first job after graduation was as an emergency room nurse at Akron General Hospital in a level one trauma center. From there she became a nurse in the intensive care unit with cardiac surgery.

She also worked for a law firm, where she was a nurse consultant in cases of medical-related litigation.

Dague-Harris first learned about MetroHealth Medical Center’s Metro Life Flight when she was doing research for a local neighborhood community event and learned they had a couple openings for a helicopter flight nurse.

Dague-Harris said it sounded like her ideal job: It would make use of all her previous experience as a firefighter, paramedic and trauma care nurse.

She was hired by Metro Life Flight in 2004. Last September she was appointed as Metro Life chief flight nurse.

In her new job, Dague-Harris is in charge of all 25 Metro Life Flight nurses and critical care paramedics as well as other aspects of daily operation.

“The desk work is important, but it’s not what I live for,” she said. “Serving my patients is where I get my energy.

“I firmly believe that anyone who is in charge of people, should be able to perform the work of those he or she is in charge of.”

Nursing became even more personal when her sister, Rebecca Ann Dague, was battling cancer. Dague-Harris took time off from Metro Life Flight to be her sister’s nurse-caretaker at a hospice center.

Dague-Harris is one of four sisters, all very close. The entire family was at Rebecca Ann Dague’s bedside when she died in February 2007.

Dague-Harris’ professional achievements have been recognized. She received the University of Akron Distinguished Nursing Alumni Award in 2011. In 2012 she was the recipient of the Metro Health Nursing Community Excellence Award.

And she also has found time for her own family.

She met her husband, Dean Harris, when he was the manager at the Dairy Queen where she worked. Harris is now the director of finance for Akron Metro RTA. He also serves on the Medina County Port Authority.

The couple live in Montville Township with their two children. Lauren is a high school junior and takes classes online. Meghan is a seventh-grader at A. I. Root Middle School.

The two girls are the fifth generation of the Dague family to live in Medina County.

Contact Bill Roser Jr. at areanews@medina-gazette.com.

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The Gazette is Medina County's daily local news source, serving the community since 1832. Contact The Gazette's news department at (330) 721-4065 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.