With sleek new kids-only helicopter, Children’s Hospital and Flight … – The Denver Post

When newborn Aiden Castillo began suffering from a condition that cut off oxygen to his brain, help arrived from above, racing state-of-the-art medical equipment to him at McKee Medical Center in Loveland at speeds of up to 140 mph. 

Lifeguard 6, Flight for Life Colorado’s newest helicopter, darted through the sky to pick up the baby, transporting him to Children’s Hospital Colorado in a mobile neonatal intensive care unit outfitted with equipment to cool his head and prevent him from suffering severe developmental delays.

Before Lifeguard 6, the transfer would have taken longer in a smaller helicopter not equipped with complex, kid-specific medical treatments and medicines. What’s carried aboard the new aircraft, including the medical team, is like bringing Children’s Hospital right to the patient, say hospital and Flight for Life officials.

They hope it will help transform the way sophisticated health care reaches rural corners of Colorado and beyond, where complex pediatric and neonatal intensive care is scarce.

“It’s a game-changer,” said Joe Darmofal, director of the flight team at Children’s. “In a lot of the rural communities that we serve, they don’t have the equipment or medication to care for these kids. Just the ventilators alone that we carry can really make a difference in saving kids’ lives.”


The H130T2 helicopter, made by Airbus, joined Flight for Life’s seven-copter fleet May 1 and comes as the use of air ambulances in Colorado is rising quickly with the population boom. Lifeguard 6 was in service just six days before it was called on its first mission, to aid baby Aiden.

The craft is expected to go on several hundred missions annually, shuttling kids from smaller hospitals to Children’s. Lifeguard 6 can transport sick kids to the Aurora medical center from as far away as southern Wyoming, southwest Nebraska and possibly western Kansas.

The $4.1 million aircraft, with boosted safety features and equipment designed to care for the tiniest patients, is the first child-specific helicopter for Children’s and Flight for Life — mirroring what has been done at other U.S. hospitals.

Flight for Life already had been transporting kids by helicopter and fixed-wing planes from seven surrounding states for care at Children’s and other hospitals, depending on the care they need. But they found their equipment wasn’t the best for getting the job done.

“We weren’t able to meet the call volume before,” Darmofal said. “Now we have two teams on call 24/7.”

The helicopter, based at Centennial Airport, flies with a team of three — a pilot, a flight nurse with a background in neonatal or pediatric intensive care, and a respiratory therapist. Children’s says studies have found that the use of pediatric specialty-care teams during transport improves outcomes for patients.

And like all Flight for Life missions, patients don’t have to be able to pay for the expensive service, run by the Centura Health system.

Flight for Life pilot Cpt. Satoshi ...
Flight for Life pilot Cpt. Satoshi Mori at the controls of the brand new Children’s Hospital Flight for Life H130 T2 helicopter during a flight May 5, 2017 in Aurora. The new helicopter has been configured to meet the needs tiniest of patients which features more interior space for an isolette and other essential equipment for newborn and pediatric transport.

The new helicopter has a wide range of child-specific medical apparatus lacking on the AS350 choppers that previously made up Flight for Life’s fleet. Those helicopters are smaller and lighter and are configured mainly for keeping adults alive and working at high altitudes.

Caring for any patient on a helicopter is tough because of the noise, cramped space and vibrations. But the AS350 is particularly hard when it comes to pediatric or neonatal patients.

“Basically we trade space for altitude,” said Kathy Mayer, Flight for Life Colorado’s operations director. ““It will carry a very skilled — specifically skilled — team to a patient faster than by ground ambulance. It reduces the out-of-hospital time for a patient.”

Also, before Lifeguard 6 was added to the fleet, one of these orange helicopters had to be flown — usually from a base at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood — to Children’s to pick up a crew and equipment before it could head out on a mission. That added 20 to 40 minutes to the response time — critical minutes in a life-or-death situation. It also took that helicopter out of service for other calls, meaning Flight for Life had to shuffle its aircraft around.

The new helicopter is equipped with an incubator for newborns and complex intravenous and breathing equipment, including a piece of machinery that can pump between 400 and 600 breaths per minute into an ailing infant whose lungs aren’t working correctly. It has a vibration-canceling system, as well, which can be critical for fragile patients with brain bleeds.

“There’s a lot more space to serve the patient,” said flight nurse Tera Carter as the new helicopter made a trip around downtown Denver this month. “It’s so much less difficult. It’s so much better on a patient. It’s a more gentle ride.”

Even the aircraft’s tail number — N127LG — is a nod to kids. It harks to Psalms 127:3, a Bible verse that calls children a gift from God.

As of now, the aircraft is only slated to do hospital-to-hospital transports. But down the road, the helicopter could be deployed in the way the rest of Flight for Life’s fleet works, responding to patients with serious trauma after car crashes and outdoor-recreation injuries.

The new helicopter is slated to operate in a roughly 120-mile radius around Centennial Airport and Children’s Hospital. It can go farther, but officials say Flight for Life’s fixed-wing fleet makes better economic and time sense for longer distances.

In the most critical cases coming from states as far as North Dakota and Montana, the helicopter can shuttle ailing children directly to a landing pad on the roof of Children’s from a fixed-wing airplane that touches down at Centennial Airport.

“It’s a lot heavier than we are used to, so we aren’t going to ask this thing to land in the backcountry like we ask our other aircraft to,” said Jeff Girouard, lead pilot for Air Methods, which handles the aerial operations for Flight for Life. “It’s dedicated to moving children.”


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