Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics showcased its new state-of-the art helicopter on Friday at four area hospitals.
The aircraft, dark blue and neon green, decorated with cartoon characters and the words “Just for Kids,” was easy to spot as it landed at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, 325 Maine, on the first stop of its tour. It also landed at Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center and St. Francis Health Center in Topeka, and Ransom Memorial Hospital in Ottawa.
Kansas City, Mo.-based Children’s Mercy uses the helicopter to transport critically ill and injured children within a 170-mile radius of the hospital. Children’s Mercy provides pediatric care for children from birth through age 18 and is one of the largest pediatric medical centers in the country.
“The nice thing about this aircraft is that we were able to design this aircraft from scratch, so the special equipment that we carry for kids will actually secure in the aircraft much easier with this one,” said Scott May, respiratory therapist and education coordinator.
The American Eurocopter cost $6 million and on Sept. 25 will replace the helicopter that Children’s Mercy has been using since 1987. When fully equipped, the helicopter is worth about $12 million.
The helicopter is the first of its kind in the region and has advanced safety features not yet required by the Federal Aviation Administration, including enhanced ground proximity and traffic warning systems. In addition, the air ambulance allows pilots to safely fly in more restricted weather and low light conditions.
“The major difference is the safety features,” May said. “We can use night vision goggles with this aircraft. It has a computer on board that tracks weather and other traffic within the area.”
The helicopter is equipped to handle children of all sizes — from a 1-pound infant to a 300-pound teenager. It also is capable of transferring two children at a time. That’s because it has more room than a typical life flight helicopter. It also is about 4 inches wider and 8 inches longer than the current helicopter.
“A few inches makes a big difference,” May said.
A flight usually includes a pilot, registered nurse, respiratory therapist, emergency medical technician and patient. If there are two children, it will include a pilot, respiratory therapist and registered nurse, May said.
Last year, Children’s Mercy transported about 100 patients from Topeka, nine from Lawrence and seven from Ottawa. May said during the slow time of year — spring and summer — it makes about 12 trips per day. During the fall and winter, it makes twice as many flights.
Pilot Mark Auer said the helicopter travels about 140 mph. Therefore, a trip from LMH to Children’s Mercy takes about 15 minutes. The helicopter only transfers patients to and from hospitals — not from the scene of an accident.
In addition to the helicopter, Children’s Mercy also has eight ground ambulances and a custom-equipped wing aircraft for longer transports. The hospital has one of the top three dedicated air medical transport programs in the country. Children’s Mercy transports nearly 5,000 patients from across the nation each year, in addition to numerous international transports.