Fla. hospital unveils new pediatric helicopter

The Kids Kare helicopter at Wolfson Children's Hospital includes a neonatal isolette for transporting both full term and premature infants


Matt Soergel
The Florida Times-Union

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Wolfson Children's Hospital this week showed off its new helicopter, which allows it to reach critically ill children as far west as Panama City, up north into mostly rural Southeast Georgia or down toward Daytona Beach.

The Kids Kare helicopter, a blue Bell 407, has room for a pilot, registered nurse, respiratory therapist and a young patient in need. It's the hospital's first helicopter that's dedicated just to children, with life-support equipment designed to care for those up to 18.

Respiratory Therapist Peter Mrgich talks about an infant isolation incubator that is part of the equipment available for the new Kids Kare helicopter from Wolfson Children's Hospital.
Respiratory Therapist Peter Mrgich talks about an infant isolation incubator that is part of the equipment available for the new Kids Kare helicopter from Wolfson Children's Hospital. (Photo/Will Dickey, Florida Times-Union)

It also features a neonatal isolette, a self-contained intensive-care unit for infants, premature and full term.

"I always call it the womb outside of the womb," Michael Aubin, the hospital's president, said. "These babies are so immature and premature that they need a lot of support, just like they were in the womb."

Wolfson now transports about 1,800 children a year between its three ambulances, a fixed-wing airplane and helicopter, said Amanda Kellum, director of the Kids Kare Critical Care and Trauma Transport Program.

It's all about time: reaching a patient, treating them and transporting them to Wolfson as quickly as possible.

"When you get a critical patient, time makes a difference," Kellum said. "We are now able to take our hospital to that patient."

The helicopter is based at Herlong Recreational Airport off Normandy Boulevard on the Westside.

The hospital contracts with Air Methods, an air medical service provider that has a base at Herlong. Air Methods owns the new helicopter and the plane Wolfson uses, Aubin said.

It also provides the fleet of Life Flight helicopters used by Baptist Health, of which Wolfson is part. The children's hospital had previously used another helicopter through that company, but it was not designed solely for young patients.

Each Kids Kare trip, whether in the air or on the ground, includes a nurse and a respiratory therapist, drawn from a group that staffs three teams a day, seven days a week.

Peter Mrgich, a respiratory therapist who's been with the hospital for 30 years, said there's a simple rationale for the team's work: "We want to see the kid grow, mature and become adults."

The helicopter has been in use since Oct. 1, Mrgich said, and made more than 40 missions in the first month.

Cortni Sant, a registered nurse who's been at the hospital for six years, said the mobile teams can communicate from the air, via satellite phone, with doctors at Wolfson, as well as those at the hospitals where they pick up sick children.

"We're basically their eyes and ears out there," she said.

They often provide care while in far-flung hospitals, then get back on the helicopter with the patient for the ride back to Jacksonville.

Mrgich said he's been pushing for years for a helicopter dedicated to children.

"When Pete wants something, he tells you every time he sees you," Sant noted wryly.

Mrgich credited Aubin and Wolfson for making it a useful, even life-saving reality.

"The other day we flew to Palatka in 22 minutes," Mrgich said. "We were down there and back before we could have driven there."

That speed is good for the patient in need, and also means the helicopter is available for another call.

"And there's always another call," Sant said.

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(c)2020 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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