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Former Catamount Reflects on How Potomac State Baseball Trained Him to Be Calm in the Toughest of Situations

Medical Helicopter Pilot Nick Cooper

By Don Schafer, assistant baseball coach and physical education instructor

It is often said that the sport of baseball is just a game.  Those who play it know otherwise.  It is so much more.  The game reflects real life.  It prepares so many for life’s challenges, obstacles, and careers.

For Nick Cooper, baseball did just that.

The pressures of a baseball game pale in comparison to a life-threatening emergency that plays out 4000 feet above the ground, but for Cooper, the lessons he learned on the baseball field prepared him for so much more than most of us must deal with daily.

Nick Cooper saves lives.

When Cooper began as a student at WVU Potomac State College in 2003, he was like many freshmen -- unsure of his decision.

“There were many unknowns at that time but choosing Potomac State proved to be one of the best decisions I made in my life,” said Cooper.  “I went there to play baseball, not knowing a single person or what my future would hold.  I left Potomac State with so many great memories, lifelong friendships and I even met my future wife in a sociology class. My experiences in the classroom and on the baseball field are directly responsible for my career path and my ability to excel in my profession.”

In order to excel in Cooper’s profession, one needs to know his stuff and, even more importantly, have control of his emotions.  Cooper says that his experiences on the baseball field during his time at Potomac State College helped create his career path.

Cooper is a nurse.  However, much of his medical career has been as a flight nurse working in a helicopter covering more than six states and often arriving at scenes of accidents and emergencies that require a composure Cooper attributes to his athletic experience.

“The baseball coaches at Potomac State taught us all life skills that have served to make me a better nurse and a better person. One of the main things instilled in us as college athletes was to be the calmest player on the field. We were taught as a pitcher, if you gave up a homerun, you showed no emotion, you got the ball and went back to the mound ready to throw the next pitch. You went right back to the task on hand. This was drilled into us daily. I also learned the value of a great work ethic during that time frame and the importance of teamwork.”

After his time at Potomac State, he went on to West Virginia University and finished his bachelor’s degree in nursing.  He then began his career in the Medical/Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va.  It was in this setting that Cooper put this freshly instilled Potomac State mindset to use.

“Day in and day out, the intensive care unit is an extremely stressful environment and where emergent situations are common,” said Cooper.  “I developed a reputation of being the calmest person in the room during any situation and always being able to think critically and act with precision under stress.  I advanced in the ICU over a three-year period and was promoted to charge nurse where I would lead the nurses for that shift and bounce around to help in all the critical responses in the entire hospital.”

When Cooper was young, his mother had worked as a flight nurse, and he was fascinated by the aeromedical field and wanted to follow in her footsteps.  “She was my mentor and my biggest supporter,” he noted.

So, after three years as the charge nurse, Cooper set his sights on a new goal.  Although the minimum experience for flight nursing is three years, it traditionally takes much longer for one to develop the skills and poise to be able to perform the job.  Cooper was able to achieve the dream of becoming a flight nurse and says, “I whole-hearted believe it was because of the ‘calmest person in the room’ mindset that was instilled in me while at Potomac State.”

For more than seven years, Cooper flew for HealthNet Aeromedical Services as a board-certified registered flight nurse, safely completing over 750 patient transports.

Reflecting of the experiences, Cooper shares, “I saw patients on the worst days of their lives, every single shift that I worked. Serving critically ill and injured patients is one of the most rewarding jobs I could ever think of. Although not every outcome is favorable, you are able to go home at the end of your shift knowing that you made an impact in the life of patients and families that they will never forget.”

Nick Cooper saves lives.

Emergency helicopter that Nick Cooper uses.

For Cooper’s accomplishments he was given the award of HealthNet’s inaugural OneTeam Excellence Award. The award is given to one employee who exemplifies the mission, vision, and values that HealthNet Aeromedical strives to uphold.

Cooper has again climbed the medical profession with the responsibility of training the next round of flight nurses.  Since 2017 Cooper has been a director and is currently the Director of Education for HealthNet, responsible for the education and training for all flight crew as well as the EMS personnel on the newly added branch of ambulance services, HealthTeam.

Cooper continues to fly on the aircraft, just “not as much as what I would like.”

The HealthNet Education Department was awarded the West Virginia Office of EMS Training Center of the Year Award in 2018. Most recently, HealthNet was awarded the international award from the Association of Air Medical Services as the 2019 Program of the Year.

Cooper reflected on the awards, “it is an honor to be a part of an organization that is recognized around the world as one of the best Aeromedical Programs in operation.”

Cooper’s latest challenge requires another level of calmness as he and his wife Kari, who is also an alumna of Potomac State and a pharmacist, became the proud parents of twins, Paris and Carson, who turned one years old in December.  Once again, Cooper plans to lean on his experience as a Potomac State Baseball player.

“The lessons that I learned playing baseball at Potomac State shaped me as a nurse, as a person, and now as a parent. I am overwhelmingly appreciative of my time there and the experiences gained as a Catamount.”