It takes a lot for parents to remain calm when their child is in a life or death situation, especially when it involves their child being transported in a helicopter. Mitchell Holley, a chaplain at Akron Children’s Hospital, is able to be a comforting presence for patients, families and even the crew during their time of need.
For one shift each week, Mitchell is an official part of the Air Bear® crew. Air Bear® is Ohio’s first and only pediatric-dedicated transport helicopter, and since 2008, it has transported more than 1,000 patients to the Akron campus. The transport program at the hospital is one of only three nationwide to include a flight chaplain.
Mitchell is the primary chaplain working in the emergency department, pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), psychiatry department and other areas. It’s his job to talk, listen, assist, and sometimes, if desired, pray with the families on the helicopter.
“The biggest reward is that I can be there to support the family in the midst of the crisis,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes the kids are very sick, and they need to be transported. The nurses and therapists are caring for the life of the child, but the families don’t get that focus. It’s one of the most important things I do.”
After receiving his master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Mitchell completed his clinical pastoral education residencies at Methodist Hospital System and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. He then joined Akron Children’s staff in 2010 and shortly after, became a member of the transport team.
“What really drew me into Akron Children’s is the family-type culture in each of the service areas,” he said. “And I said yes to the transport team because I felt there was a great need.”
Oftentimes, Mitchell sees the families he met in Air Bear® in other departments, such as the PICU. It helps that he can continually be there providing spiritual and emotional support during their time at Akron Children’s.
But he didn’t always serve in the ministry. Mitchell began his career as a professional dancer, but eventually felt a stronger calling toward a life of service. He is also a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves, which helps him relate to the transport crew and other Akron Children’s staff.
“Whether it’s the ministry, nurses, therapists, or the transport team, there are situations beyond your limits, and you need others to help you process that,” he said. “Working here, I feel accepted to support the patients, and also provide care and support to the staff.”