When your child is sick, a drive to the doctor’s office can seem like an eternity. But sometimes, minutes can mean the difference between a full recovery, brain damage, or even worse. That’s when Air George steps in.
Last year alone, the $4 million Bell 407 helicopter transported 550 patients to and from Children’s Hospital Central California in Madera County. The crew consists of a pilot, one pediatric ICU nurse and a respiratory therapist.
Last month, four-year-old Ezekial had to be flown from Bakersfield to Children’s Hospital. He suffered a seizure so severe that even minutes later, he still wasn’t coming out of it. As soon as doctors in Bakersfield stabilized him, Air George flew him to Madera County. Mom Laci Rodart says, “When you have that status, it is life-risking and if they don’t get him here fast, it can cause brain damage.” It took an hour to get to the hospital by chopper, as opposed to more than two by car.’
Nurse Traci Jackson has gone up on the chopper at least 160 times in the last two year. She says she doesn’t worry about her own safety when she’s in the air. All she cares about is the patient. She adds, “You don’t think about it, because you’re there for a higher reason. You’re not there for yourself. You’re there to save a child’s life, to get them back here so that they can get a higher level of care”.
Daniel Marquez is one of four pilots who fly Air George. When he’s on-call, he lives in a house built especially for helicopter and ground crews. Funding came from one of the Guilds that raises money for hospital programs. Marquez is from the Los Angeles area, so his job takes him away from his wife and two young children. He’s quick to point out he’s no hero – the real heroes are the nurses and respiratory therapists he flies.
“It’s easy to say I’m biased because I work with these people,” Marquez says. “But I see what they do day-in and day-out and I see what other programs do. They just do a very fine job and do it better than anybody else.”
Next month, Children’s Hospital will get a new Air George helicopter. It’s more advanced and a bit bigger, too. It will start transporting patients later this fall.