Maria Eells, a recently graduated nurse from Sitka, was named the recipient of the 2020 Stacie Rae Morse- Gift of Flight scholarship, named after a flight nurse killed in a 2019 plane crash. (Courtesy photo / Marie Eells)

Maria Eells, a recently graduated nurse from Sitka, was named the recipient of the 2020 Stacie Rae Morse- Gift of Flight scholarship, named after a flight nurse killed in a 2019 plane crash. (Courtesy photo / Marie Eells)

Honoring a legacy: Flight nurse scholarship awarded to Sitka nurse

Named after a flight nurse killed in a 2019 crash, a new entrant will take up the mantle.

Flight nurse Stacie Morse, her unborn daughter Delta Rae, Patrick Coyle, and flight paramedic Margaret Langston were killed in a plane crash two years ago on Jan. 29, 2019.

But from that tragedy, at least one Alaskan aims to follow in Morse’s footsteps.

Sponsored by East Coast Helicopter Operations, Maria Eells, an aspiring flight nurse from Sitka, was announced as the awardee for the 2020 Stacie Rae Morse- Gift of Flight Scholarship.

“I feel honored. Most definitely honored,” Eells said in a phone interview. “They definitely surprised me when they had the announcing interview. They kind of took me by surprise.”

Recently graduated with a nursing degree and about to start work with the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, the road to becoming a certified flight nurse is a long one, but one the scholarship will help with, Eells said. The profession is something she’s known from one end, and now seeks to enter.

“I do really well in fast-paced environments and sort of extreme conditions. I think I thrive better under pressure. I’ve had a few friends who’ve done it over time,” Eells said. “I’m certainly no stranger to medevacs myself, having been a passenger.”

Shoes of just the right size

Eels was one of more than a dozen candidates evaluated for the scholarship, which will allow the nurse to attend ECHO’s annual flight nurse conference for training, networking and career opportunities once the conferences are able to safely resume, said Mary Beth Wiedemann, a member of ECHO’s Flightcrew Assistance Support Team who oversaw the scholarship process.

“We got some really good essays, and we had a really hard time narrowing down. So we did a video with a few more questions. When I saw the video, I said, ‘I think this is the winner,’” Weidemann said in a phone interview. “There’s a lot of similarities between Stacie and Maria.”

Eells is a great fit for the scholarship, taking after Morse in many ways, said Susan Morse Delucia, Morse’s aunt.

“We know that Stacie would love this scholarship because it would continue her legacy. Stacie always prided herself on being strong and fearless and unstoppable but also having a soft side for family. Maria is the same,” Delucia said. “She’s had many many challenges and a horrific loss, but she’s endured, and she’s shown herself to be quite fierce and a fighter. We thought she would be a perfect pick for the scholarship.”

Eells said she hopes to be worthy of Morse’s legend.

“It feels emotional. It’s very touching and it makes me feel very honored. It just makes me hope I can live up to any expectations anyone has of,” Eells said. “There’s big shoes to fill by following in Stacie’s footsteps.”

A love of Southeast

Born in Yakutat and a resident of Sitka for the last 15 years, Eells said she intends to stay in the region working and living, connected with the land and the people. Flight nursing is a profession with singular ties to the region.

“It always kind of stuck out to me a little bit more than the other professions in the Southeast,” Eells said. “I feel like it’s very limited to the Southeast and I want to live here. I have roots, and I feel like that’s a really good opportunity to take care of the community, the entire Southeast.”

Eells credits her late husband, Arthur Eells, and her late father, James Howard, for her courage and confidence. Previous work has also given her poise under pressure, Eells said.

“I spent a lot of my life commercial fishing,” Eells said. “I have a lot of experience with extreme weather and pressure. It doesn’t make me super nervous.”

A single parent, Eells said she’s considered taking some time down in Seattle for more experience in the field, but considers it unlikely — the ties to Sitka and her love for the Southeast are just too tight. The flight nursing field, a relatively uncommon profession outside of Alaska, allows her to serve the land and the people in a unique role.

“She’s not just sitting around waiting for things to happen. She’s a go-getter. Many of the words I would use to describe Stacie, I would use to describe her,” Delucia said. “She would be someone Stacie would have selected. You try to find people that are on a similar path, with the drive to pursue further education, and the drive to make a difference.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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