NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) – One of the original members of the ThedaStar flight nurse program is retiring at 36 years.

Before joining the program, Mark Coenen was an ER and ICU nurse at ThedaCare. He did not have any experience flying an aircraft when he joined ThedaStar, but he was excited to take care of patients in a different way.

Coenen says, “I love the fast-paced patient care that we have here with the helicopter. Sometimes in the hospital, it may take weeks or even months to see a difference [in patients]. In the helicopter, we see differences in minutes.”

Over Coenen’s career, he has saved hundreds of lives, but he says that he couldn’t have done it on his own.

“Initially, if we go to the scene of a car crash, there’s probably 100 people that take care of a patient that first day, and we’re just a small part of it. We may have an important part, but I think everybody has an important part,” Coenen says.

Even though he will miss interacting with patients and seeing his co-workers every day, Coenen is ready to enjoy his flight to retirement.

He says, “Flying in the helicopter was an office with the best view in the world. I’ll miss that, and I’ll miss the friendship of all the people I worked with.”

Coenen recognizes it will take some time to adjust to his new leisurely life, saying, “It’s a little bit frightening to make that kind of a change because the routine I had was getting up, coming into work, and seeing people that I think were the best friends I’ve ever had in my life.”

Coenen also says when the weather gets warmer, he hopes to spend his retirement golfing and doing yard work.