LifeLine Nurse Lisa Schlemmer grew up at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway following her dad, a professional videographer, to various events. Now she spends her off days working on the racing circuit’s track safety team.
One of her favorite moments at the Indy 500 isn’t necessarily when she comes within a bumper’s width of a celebrated driver. For Lisa Schlemmer, that moment is when the race starts; the cars are grouped together taking one slow lap around the track, the green flag waving.
“My dad was always in the first turn and I always think about him and the excitement he felt at the beginning of each race,” said Schlemmer, a nurse with LifeLine. She was 17 when her father died of complications from a heart condition.
The only child of Joe and Carol Creek, Schlemmer’s racing memories include not just Indianapolis but other speedways throughout the Midwest – Eldora (Ohio), Terre Haute, Winchester, and Toledo (Ohio). Her dad worked as a cameraman for Dick Wallen Productions out of California. His job was capturing images of practices, qualifications and races. And Schlemmer and her mom were by his side taking in the action.
“Minors weren’t allowed in the infield so I hid in a large storage bench dad made to store his equipment inside the van. As we passed through the gates I’d crouch down and keep asking if we were inside yet,” Schlemmer says.
It was when her father was ill that Schlemmer decided to pursue a career in medicine. Joe Creek loved his iced tea. And during one hospital stay he was playing cards with his daughter when his heart rate soared. Nurses thought maybe it was because he was anxious over the card game. But Schlemmer asked if her dad had iced tea with his dinner and if it was caffeinated.
“No one else had made that connection and it just made sense to me that caffeine would elevate his heart rate,” said Schlemmer. She was only about 15 at the time but that personal experience of patient care stuck with her. In high school she joined an EMT for a ride along and she was hooked.
“You make a difference in someone’s life one time and it’s the value and purpose that drives you,” said Schlemmer. Years after that incident with her father, Schlemmer remembers stabilizing a patient who was found unconscious by her husband and was swelling due to angioedema. Through quick work, Schlemmer was able to intubate right where she collapsed on the kitchen floor.
“After we got her intubated, her swelling progressed. So if we had not intubated her when we did they wouldn’t have been able to get the tube in. It could have saved her life. It made a difference by doing what we’re trained to do.” said Schlemmer.
It’s that quick response and attention to detail that drives Schlemmer in her career as a nurse.
A graduate of Fort Wayne’s Lutheran College Schlemmer began her career as a med/surg nurse, and then worked in ER for a time. While she was in ER she took an EMT class and worked with Wells County EMS, with the idea that she was going to gain as much experience as possible to help her land a job as a flight nurse. She also became a paramedic. It paid off – she eventually landed a job as a flight nurse with an air medical program in Fort Wayne.
In 2004 she started working as a paramedic with Rural/Metro, providing Emergency Medical Service coverage for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. During her 10 years with the company she met her husband, Chip, also a paramedic, and they were married in 2005. They have three children Nick, Megan, and Tyler.
Last year, Schlemmer began working with LifeLine as a regional manager supporting the critical care bases outside of Indianapolis including Terre Haute, Richmond, Lafayette and Columbus. In her role she is also responsible for maintaining relationships with the hospitals and coordinating staffing and support at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May.
She and her husband also travel with the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) providing a consistent safety presence for development drivers for NASCAR.
“We coordinate fire, recovery, restoration, and the medical care for our drivers, crew and officials, said Schlemmer. That could mean working with a wrecker towing cars or as a technical inspector weighing the cars. The series runs February through October and can take Schlemmer and her husband to as many as 20 races a year.
That includes the Indy 500 where she’s close enough to hear the racing tires, feel the heat from the track and see the drivers up close.
She was in a near miss with a golf cart driven by A.J. Foyt, spent the day with David Letterman in the Bobby Rahal pit, took in an insider’s view of the Andretti team, and was within inches of Tony Stewart. She ran into Richard Petty in a restaurant and has joked about Indiana’s unpredictable May weather with Sarah Fisher.
But one of her favorite memories was delivering the green flag aboard the LifeLine helicopter accompanied by Paul George and Pat McAfee. There was a special guest in their presence – a Riley patient that Schlemmer had once helped transport for emergency care.
“One of my favorite things about working as a transport nurse is the education and outreach to patients and families,” said Schlemmer. “Now I still do that but my education is internal with staff and I feel like by being involved in so many aspects of safety and care, I’m touching a lot more patients. I feel like I’m able to be their voice.”
— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.