Air Race Tragedy Inspires Nurse to Continue Education

Elvin Scholarship
Kristina Spitale-Efstratis, at right, with Bill and Rachel Elvin during the ceremony of the Elvin Fund Scholarship.

Photo: Cherie Elvin Memorial Fund Scholarship recipient Kristina Spitale-Efstratis, right, with Bill and Rachel Elvin.

Five years ago, a crash at the Reno National Championship Air Races changed countless lives forever, including those of the Elvin family, who established a memorial scholarship for nurses in the Reno community to honor their mother. Now in its second year, the scholarship was recently awarded to a Renown nurse to continue her education.

On Sept. 16, 2011, Kristina Spitale-Efstratis, now an ICU nurse at Renown, was completing her second semester of nursing school. She planned on attending the Reno National Championship Air Races with her father, director of logistics for that event, but canceled so she could complete her first patient care plan for school.

Then tragedy struck.

An aircraft hit the tarmac during the event, fatally wounding 11 people, including the pilot, and seriously injuring about 70 others. 

“The moments after I’d heard of the accident were the most terrifying, helpless, emotional moments of my life,” says Spitale-Efstratis. “I felt overwhelming relief that I wasn’t there and my dad was all right, accompanied by guilt, followed by immense worry about the fans and volunteers’ safety, and intense disappointment that I wasn’t there to help.

“But would I have even been help?” she adds. “Would I have known what to do?”

Those thoughts were the driving force that would push her to strive for excellence from that moment on — every step of her nursing education, every long and tiring residency shift and today in her work as an ICU nurse at Renown.

“I knew that if I worked hard in my studies, and learned as much as possible from the doctors and nurses I worked with, I would be able to provide great care no matter what tragedies came my way,” Spitale-Efstratis says. “I still get nervous, and I still cry and pray at the bedside with families when we’ve exhausted our medical abilities. But underlying that, I know there is a confidence I’ve gained from education that gives me the strength for the next day.”

Spitale-Efstratis is now pursuing a master’s degree in nursing to become a family nurse practitioner. In recognition of her hard work and commitment to excellence in nursing, she was recently awarded the Cherie Elvin Memorial Fund Scholarship, established in memory of one of the air crash victims.

The scholarship is named for Cherie Elvin, a longtime fan of the Reno air races. For 16 years, she planned her family’s annual trip from Kansas to attend the event. The 2011 crash had an immeasurable impact on the entire Elvin family. Cherie, 73, lost her life, while Chuck, her husband of 52 years, their two sons and daughter-in-law all lost part of their right legs.

The family was treated at area hospitals and is still grateful for the care, kindness and support received in northern Nevada. The Elvin family wanted to do something to remember Cherie and help support nurses in our community, so they established an endowment that will award a scholarship annually to a local nurse in pursuit of higher education.

“Being honored with the scholarship lessens the burden of my graduate education cost, while allowing me to carry on a piece of Cherie’s legacy in honor of the care her family received from my outstanding colleagues,” she says.

Spitale-Efstratis was selected by a panel of judges including Cherie’s son, Bill, and daughter-in-law, Rachel.

“I am saddened by the heartbreak the Elvin family went through, so proud of my fellow nurses and the care they provided the family, and so grateful that they remain part of our community and continue to give back to our nursing workforce,” Spitale-Efstratis says. “I am so honored to receive this scholarship in Cherie’s memory.”


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