NYU Winthrop Hospital’s new Mattituck Primary Care, serving the North Fork of Long Island, held a grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, nearly six months late—but for good reason. The ceremony had to wait on Mattituck Primary Care physician, Kerry A. Murphy, MD, to return from a deployment to Iraq with the 106th Rescue Wing, which had just recently lost 4 brethren of Dr. Murphy’s.
It was March 15, 2018, when Dr. Murphy originally showed up for the opening of the family medicine practice. She’d been looking forward to the opening of the new NYU Winthrop Hospital practice for some time. But that evening, her world came crashing down as her phone began ringing off the hook. Dr. Murphy is not just a physician treating local Long Island families; she’s also been a flight surgeon for 17 years, serving in the New York Air National Guard with the 106th Rescue Wing out of Westhampton Beach. And on that day, when Dr. Murphy first helped open the new practice, she also received devastating news— 4 of her 106th brethren had been killed in a helicopter crash in western Iraq, killing all 7 crewmembers when their HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed during a noncombat mission.
A devastated Dr. Murphy wished she could have been there, thinking maybe there was something she could have done to help. That wish was bittersweet because, in fact, Dr. Murphy was scheduled to deploy to western Iraq just eight days later. The caskets of her 3 fallen brethren—honoring Major Christopher Zanetis, Master Sergeant Christopher Raguso, and Technical Sergeant Dashan Briggs—arrived at the 106th Rescue Wing on March 27th. Three hours later, Dr. Murphy departed the base, leaving behind broken-hearted fellow guardsmen—and her husband and three daughters—and she headed for western Iraq. (The fourth fallen brethren, Major O’Keeffe, arrived home on August 4).
“It was hard to wrap my brain around what had happened, but I so wanted to go to Iraq,” said Dr. Murphy. “I wanted to see the faces of the team that was there, to be with them in their time of crisis, to lend whatever support I could.”
That passion of hers, to serve and be of service, is like every other member of the 106th Rescue Wing. “We love our mission,” said Dr. Murphy. “It is an amazing group, and every member of that group answers the call of duty every time they are needed.”
The wing conducts day and night search and rescue missions, in both civil operations and hostile environments, and provides aeromedical evacuation, disaster relief and more. Wing members have a particularly rich history of leadership in rescue missions. The wing was the first on the scene when TWA Flight 800 crashed in Long Island waters. They conducted a daring helicopter rescue mission during the “Perfect Storm,” the crew having to ditch its own helicopter and be rescued themselves. And, it recovered the wreckage and transponder from the doomed flight of John F. Kennedy Jr. The unit, including Dr. Murphy, also provides support for every space shuttle that is launched, and it was activated to help with Hurricanes Sandy and Harvey in Houston.
Dr. Murphy says her work as a flight surgeon is, however, a misnomer. She is a “human system expert,” tasked with identifying “stressors” to the crew in-flight such as noise- and vibration-related issues, vision impairment, and heat-related issues, and she helps to maintain the physical Air Force standards of the crew.
Dr. Murphy returned to work recently in Mattituck, and the long-delayed ribbon-cutting ceremony of Mattituck Primary Care was at last celebrated on September 6, 2018. While it may seem anticlimactic for her to now be managing patients’ high blood pressure and diabetes, doing school physicals, women’s exams, along with sick and well visits, the East Moriches resident says it remains extremely rewarding. In addition to serving her country, she is committed to providing compassionate care to members of her local communities—especially to the underserved North Fork where she sees a strong need for additional primary care expertise.
Noted Dr. Murphy’s squadron commander within the 106th Rescue Wing, Lt. Colonel Curt Green, “We’re proud to have within our wing a physician like Kerry Murphy, who has honorably served our nation for so many years and also selflessly cares for those in local communities. She is an example of duty and devotion at its best.”
Dr. Murphy is joined in the Mattituck Primary Care practice by Katie Hough, DO. NYU Winthrop has their back, should any of her patients need specialty or inpatient hospital care as well.