New helicopter can support baby boom across Intermountain West

Published: Friday, July 18 2014 4:35 p.m. MDT

Chief flight nurse Bart Chournos and nurse Sandie Boardman unload a new transport Isolette from an AirMed chopper as University of Utah Health Care introduces perinatal operations to AirMed in Salt Lake City, Friday, July 18, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Sandie Boardman, a flight nurse at University Hospital, broke in the team's newest helicopter in November when a premature baby boy was born while in the air.

"Her baby would not have had the outcome it had if we hadn't got her here, so we're just happy we could do that for the baby and mom," Boardman said.

University Hospital's medical transport program, AirMed, bought the $6 million helicopter in 2013 to transport high-risk pregnant patients, as well as prenatal babies less than 30 days old.

Although a hospital is the safest place to deliver a baby, Boardman said the new AirMed helicopter is unique because it's equipped to handle an in-flight birth and has enough room to fit a specialized perinatal team onboard.

With 1,200 babies being transported on a daily basis to the Salt Lake area, Bart Chournos, chief flight nurse for AirMed, said he's excited about the newest addition to the program's fleet.

"The university has not been flying babies up until this point, and we have offered every aspect of care except neonates over the last 30 years," Chournos said. "But now we are adding this final complement to this fantastic team by adding the ability to transport neonates."

The AirMed fleet now consists of six helicopters and two airplanes, the newest of which was funded through the University Hospital Foundation, Chournos said.

The helicopter serves one of the largest geographical areas of any flight program in the nation, he said, covering Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Since its purchase, the helicopter has been the site of two births and makes an average of 18 obstetrical flights a month.

The special helicopter has more room onboard than any other chopper in Utah, Chournos said. The fuselage can fit a stretcher and a three-person perinatal team that includes a newborn intensive care nurse, perinatal respiratory therapist and a high-risk OB-GYN.

"We are the only team right now that can provide maternal transport as well as take care of the baby if it happens to deliver before we can transport the mom," said Mariana Baserga, director of AirMed's perinatal transport team.

Having a perinatal respiratory therapist on board is not common, said Frankie Hurst, program manager for AirMed.

"We’ve always had the neonatal nurse component, and adding the neonatal respiratory therapists sets us above everyone else that does these kinds of transports," Hurst said.

The three-person perinatal team connected to the chopper also makes it unique because it allows a more immediate response time to emergencies, said Nathan Morreale, AirMed's outreach coordinator.

"The difference between this and other programs (is) we don’t have to go pick up a team anywhere. Our team is already assigned to the aircraft so it cuts out that time," Morreale said

"I love this new helicopter," said Chournos, who has flown with AirMed for the past 25 years in neonatal intensive care. "This is a dream that I’ve had for 20-plus years to have us begin to transport neonates.

"The university has one of the best newborn intensive care units here in the Intermountain region, and it gives us the ability to bring those patients into that intensive care."

Email: mcollette@deseretnews.com

Twitter: MirandaCollette

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