An obituary that touched me

This is the only obit I ever wrote that made me cry. There was something about this young woman’s early death, and the things that she accomplished in such a short time, that got to me. People always say nice things about the dead, but the comments I heard about this person were different, very sincere and meaningful. Also, the flight suit hanging in her closet, awaiting her death, was a powerful metaphor for me.

Illness had kept Elizabeth “Beth” Rogers from her job as a Bayfront Medical Center flight nurse since last fall, but the helicopter crews would fly over her home whenever they got the chance to let her know they were thinking of her.

Mrs. Rogers lost her long battle with cancer Wednesday at Mease Hospital Dunedin. She was 25.

“She could always hear the helicopter before the rest of us,” her husband, Ted Rogers, said Thursday. “She would say, `Here they come.’ It always brought her pleasure to hear them going over.”

Although illness forced an end to her career before her 25th birthday, Mrs. Rogers had accomplished a great deal, according to her co-workers. She was a trained paramedic, a registered nurse and a certified flight nurse, and worked on the BayFlight crews for more than a year.

“Beth had geared her whole life toward becoming a flight nurse,” said Maurice Brazil, BayFlight’s chief flight nurse. “She was the only nurse I know who had every certification known, and at her age that was extremely unusual. She was very energetic and very focused on patient care.”

Brazil said the Florida Flight Nurses Association, meeting recently at a national emergency care conference in Orlando, voted to name its new annual award the Beth Rogers Award and to make her its first recipient. In addition, he said, the Florida Emergency Nurses Association has established a scholarship in her name.

“Some of us old dogs have been in this business for 20 years, and Beth had been flying for only two or three years,” Brazil said. “That’s the kind of impact she had. Our whole industry is just devastated.”

Mrs. Rogers knew she wanted to be involved in emergency medicine when she was in her teens, her husband said. Her interest in flight nursing happened later.

“Beth was always interested in emergency medicine,” he said. “In 1985, she became involved with the Young Explorers, which allowed young people to participate in various fields. She worked as a volunteer in the emergency room in a hospital in Panama City.”

Mrs. Rogers earned her EMT license in a program in Panama City, Fla., taught by her future husband, and then began working in Walton County. Later, he said, she returned to school and earned registered nurse and paramedic licenses.

“In 1991, we went on vacation and rode in a sightseeing helicopter, and then she did an internship with Life Flight Helicopters in Tallahassee,” Rogers said. “She thought it was the best of both worlds, doing the work of both a paramedic and a nurse. She always wanted to do both.”

Mrs. Rogers went through several surgeries and underwent long radiation and chemotherapy sessions in her battle with cancer, her husband said. Through it all, she expected to recover and to return to work.

“She always treated it as another challenge; she never gave in to it,” her husband said. “She wanted very much to be able to go back to work. She had a brand-new flight suit hanging in her closet that she had never worn, and she had every intention of wearing it some day.”

Rogers said his wife will be buried in the new flight suit.

Mrs. Rogers was born in Nashville, Tenn., and came here in 1991 from Panama City, Fla.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her parents, Roger and Laura Draffin, Palm Harbor, and a brother, Wally A. Draffin, Auburndale.

Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park is in charge of arrangements. Visitation is planned from 6 to 8 p.m. today at Moss-Feaster Sylvan Abbey Chapel, Sunset Point Road, Clearwater. The funeral service will be 10 a.m. Saturday at Curlew Baptist Church, 2276 Curlew Road, Palm Harbor. Burial will be in Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park, Clearwater. The family suggested donations to the American Cancer Society.