Arkansas Children's Hospital has a pair of angels with rotors

Angel One flies 2 Sikorksy S76C+ helos for ACH with 2 new D-models on order.

By Mike Potts
Contributing Editor

Members of the Angel One Transport flight team on the ramp at LIT with 1 of the unit's 2 Sikorsky S76C+ helicopters.

They call it Angel One and throughout Arkansas it's a rare person who doesn't have either personal experience with it or at least know of a friend or relative who has benefitted from its life-saving services. Angel One is the intensive care medical transport system for Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH), carrying critically ill and injured infants, children and adolescents, as well as burn patients of all ages from throughout Arkansas and neighboring states to ACH for treatment.

ACH is one of the largest pediatric hospitals in the US, and the only one in Arkansas. Located in Little Rock, the ACH campus occupies 29 city blocks. The facilities feature 370 beds, 500 physicians, 80 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties and more than 4400 employees.

ACH is a non-profit institution that has earned an international reputation for its innovative treatments, unique surgical procedures and on-going research. It has a strong continual relationship with the nearby University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Angel One provides transport for high-risk obstetric patients in partnership with UAMS, in addition to its other services.

History of ACH and Angel One

Angel One has operated this Sikorsky S76C+ since it was new. With more than 10,000 flight hours, it will soon be traded on a new S76D.

The history of ACH extends back to 1912 with the founding of the Arkansas Children's Home Society, which began as an orphanage, originally based in Morrilton AR where a patron had donated a building. In 1918 the orphanage relocated to Little Rock and its superintendent, Dr Orlando Christian, identified the need for a children's hospital. After an extensive fundraising campaign, the first hospital building was completed on the site of the current hospital campus in 1924.

Angel One traces its roots back to 1978 when it was formed as Arkansas Neonatal Transport Service (ANTS) with a single ground-based ambulance. In 1983 aviation was added to the mix with a fixed-wing aircraft provided by an outside contractor.

To expand the service as well as its area of operation, vertical lift was incorporated 3 years later with the addition of a Bell 206 JetRanger leased from Little Rock's Central Flying Service. Soon after, a Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) Bo105 twin-turbine helicopter was added as well. Petroleum Helicopters International (PHI) was contracted to operate the service under their Part 135 charter certificate and also provide pilots and maintenance.

Standardization of Sikorsky S76 helicopters

Angel One reports to VP of Patient Care Services Katie Lea, who says the flight dept enhances the hospital's reputation.

Renamed Angel One, the unit leased a Sikorsky S76A from PHI in 1992 to support in-flight Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) missions. ECMO is a treatment used for patients with life-threatening heart or lung problems, which are common in premature infants.

At the time the required equipment for ECMO included a pump that resembled a small washing machine and weighed 300 lbs, not including the ramps necessary to load and off-load it from the helicopter. The ECMO function also required 4 to 5 attendants in addition to the flightcrew and patient. The midsize S76 provided both the onboard space and the lift capacity to support the ECMO mission, as well as added speed and range.

Addition of the S76 brought another new capability to Angel One—the ability to conduct 2-pilot IFR operations, thereby significantly expanding Angel One's operational scope. It also marked the beginning of the department's extensive experience with the Sikorsky S76. In 1999 Angel One acquired its own S76A, a donation from the aviation dept of Amway, the home products company.

The 2002-2003 timeframe proved to be a watershed period for Angel One. The fleet was totally replaced, with the older aircraft being traded in for 2 new S76C+ models. Funding for one of the new units was largely provided by donations from Bentonville Arkansas-based Walmart and its affiliate Sam's Club, as well as charities Log a Load for Kids and Will Golf for Kids.

ACH also decided to discontinue subcontracting of its rotorcraft operations. It acquired its own Part 135 certificate and took over operation of the flight dept. With the addition of the S76C+ models came the ability to conduct single-pilot operations, and this has now become standard procedure for Angel One.

Staff, key administrative personnel and functions

Steve Haemmerle is Angel One's program director, with responsibility for the business and clinical segments of the program. Of the department's 70 employees, 50 report to Haemmerle.

Today the department has a staff of approximately 70 people, including pilots, nurses, EMT coordinators, respiratory therapists and dispatchers. And Angel One continues to operate the 2 S76C+ helicopters it acquired in 2003. In addition to the helicopters, Angel One has 4 ambulances for ground-based transport.

It continues to contract for fixed-wing lift when needed to handle longer-range missions. Usually a Beech King Air B200 from Acadian Air Ambulance in New Orleans or Seven Bar Aviation in Dallas does the job. For the occasional trip beyond Arkansas and the states surrounding it, either a Bombardier Learjet 45 or Cessna Citation are available.

Angel One reports to VP of Patient Care Services Katie Lea, who views the department as being the face of ACH and a symbol that people in the community look up to and respect. In addition to transportation, Lea is responsible for the emergency, trauma and surgery segments of ACH—functions she describes as points of entry to the hospital for patients requiring its services.

A native of Missouri and a graduate of Arkansas State University, Lea has a background in pediatric nursing. She joined ACH 5 years ago and has been responsible for Angel One for about a year.

The department is jointly led by Program Director Steve Haemmerle and Director of Operations Collin Bailey. Haemmerle is responsible for both the business and clinical sides of the operation while Bailey is responsible for aviation operations. Haemmerle holds a BS in respiratory care from Quinnipiac University in Hamden CT. He began flying with Life Star while working as respiratory therapist at Hartford Hospital in 1998. He joined ACH in 2007.


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