MedSTAR chopper turns 20


By Patrick Badgley
THE WASHINGTON TIMES



Ted Chittick has been flying people on the verge of death for more than 20 years.
A helicopter pilot for the Washington Hospital Center, Mr. Chittick has flown car-crash victims from local highways, gunshot victims from the edge of town and stabbing victims from the heart of the city.
But of the hundreds of patients he has helped save, one type has amazed and disturbed him.
"There is nothing like burn victims," Mr. Chittick said. "[Paramedics] do miraculous things with burns. I remember the screaming from them. I can hear them from 20 years ago."
Yesterday, Mr. Chittick joined other hospital pilots, paramedics, nurses and administrators in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the MedSTAR helicopter program at the Washington Hospital Center.
About 80 people serve in the program, including pliots, flight nurses, paramedics, communication specialists and mechanics.
The hospital, with three helicopters in service and one in reserve, flew more than 3,000 patients last year.
MedSTAR (Medical Shock Trauma Acute Resuscitation) has transported nearly 40,000 patients in the Washington area since its first helicopter left Washington Hospital Center in 1983 to retrieve a patient suffering from a spinal-cord injury in Prince William County.
Mr. Chittick piloted that maiden MedSTAR flight, just as he flew the copter that saved a woman's life after the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.
The woman was burned and suffering from smoke inhalation, but the helicopter got her safely to a hospital, where she recovered within a few days.
Mark McTigue, a MedSTAR helicopter paramedic, said the cases handled by the pilots, nurses and paramedic vary daily, and factors such as the weather make a routine trip an adventure.
"You can't consider anything routine," Mr. McTigue said. "Even something you might consider routine - like landing - it can have obstacles."
The hospital's helicopters, which can travel 180 miles on a single tank of fuel, allow rescuers to provide a wide range of critical care and general patient services. A standard flight crew consists of a pilot, a critical-care nurse and a critical-care paramedic.
Flight nurse Tammi Royce said helicopter transport gives hope to trauma victims and their families.
"You come down here and not only handle critical care, but you get to go out in the community and do it," said Miss Royce, who also served with the team that flew on September 11.
Mr. Chittick said he is inspired by the medical teams, especially in high-pressure situations in close quarters.
"As a pilot, it's not very hard," he said. "But you watch these medics work and the lives that they save - it's enough to give you goose bumps."
For Mr. McTigue, who has been a copter paramedic for 2½ years, the most touching moments occur when he is helping ill or wounded children.
"I'm a father, and I've transported many pediatric patients," Mr. McTigue said. "So it's amazing to look at parents' eyes and see their relief when they know we're taking care of their children."