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SPECIAL REPORT: Flight For Life


OKLAHOMA CITY – There are three medical transport companies in Oklahoma flying adults in critical need of medical attention.

But there is only once service in the state which operates exclusively for newborn babies, Air Kids One is a helicopter service exclusively for newborn babies.

The nurses and pilots who work for this transport team are based out of OU Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Air Kids One transports neonates, babies born before their due date, up to 30 days old.

When there is warning about a baby with a significant health problem, an expectant mother will travel to Oklahoma City to give birth at a hospital with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

However, sometimes babies are born without any warning of medical complications.

When those newborns arrive at a rural Oklahoma hospital, the fastest and most efficient way for those babies to travel to Oklahoma City is by air.

OU Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital is the state’s only Level 4 NICU, the highest level of specialty for babies with the most serious health needs.

The Air Kids Team flies in an EC 130 helicopter, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The helicopter sits on the roof of Children’s Hospital with three isolettes on stand-by, waiting on an emergency call.

“You have to be able to take a first glance look at a situation and know what to do next.” said Neonatal Nurse Clinician Kendra Riel. “We carry everything that you would need for a baby in the NICU: ventilator support, oxygen and medication.”

Air Kids One is a traveling NICU.

The team brings the equipment and the expertise of the NICU to the baby.

Two flight nurses stabilize the baby at the birth hospital, and then they fly back to OU Medical Center with baby in tow.

“It’s different than picking up someone at an accident scene who has to be taken to the hospital. Those crews stabilize everything in flight. We don’t have to do that. We take care of it on the ground. These gals get this baby completely stabilized before we leave the hospital,” Air Kids One Pilot Max Martin said.

“They are getting the best care possible in Oklahoma. In a little baby’s life I think every minute counts. That’s why we are here,” Air Kids Medical Director Dr. Venu Gottipati said.

Air Kids is the only exclusively neonatal transport team in the state.

They fly to every corner of Oklahoma, making the occasional trip to north Texas and to Arkansas.

The Air Kids team once flew to Tennessee to get a baby.

“Babies who are flown here can get here a lot more quickly and can get the care they need in a much more efficient manner,” OU Medicine neonatologist Dr. Doug Dannaway said.

Just before midnight on Wednesday, Feb. 13, Ruger Wilson made the trip from a hospital in Ada to Oklahoma City.

He was 11 hours old.

His mother, Kim Ragan, had no idea there would be a problem with her baby boy.

“You expect to have a good experience. When your baby isn’t healthy, it’s hard,” Ragan said.

Ruger Wilson had a condition known as Transient Tachypnea of Newborns, when a baby doesn’t adjust to life outside the womb.

Little Ruger was breathing correctly and so his mom handed him over to the Air Kids Team to fly him to Oklahoma City for life-saving medical attention.

It was his best chance at life.

“It was basically a life or death situation. Two hours to travel by ground. That’s a long time versus the 30 to 40 minutes is takes to fly,” Ruger’s father Brandon Wilson said.

There are 12 nurses on the Air Kids team.

“You sometimes know what you’re walking into and then you sometimes don’t. The picture that was presented on the phone may have changed during the 30 minute flight,” Air Kids nurse Carrie Judkins said.

The Air Kids team flies once a day, on average; approximately 40 flights per month.

It is a courageous endeavor for all involved in the journey.