Most of the time, STARS transfers patients to critical-care hospitals.

For our tiniest and sickest patients, however, we bring specialized health-care teams to them, providing these delicate babies the best chance possible.

When our crews accept a neonatal or pediatric intensive care unit call (NICU or PICU), all the “grown-up” medical supplies and equipment in the back of the helicopter are removed. Taking the stretcher, cardiac monitor and ventilator out not only decreases the amount of weight on board, it also makes room in the small cabin for the isolette, one NICU or PICU nurse, a respiratory therapist and a STARS air medical crew member.

The isolette is secured to the helicopter’s floor for the flight and features a ventilator, intravenous pumps and infant-sized supplies and medicine.

This unique partnership between STARS and health regions in Alberta and Saskatchewan is making a difference by saving time and allowing these patients to receive critical care sooner.

“STARS is called when time is of the essence for these little patients,” said Darcy McKay, clinical operations manager at the Regina base.

“This relationship between health regions and STARS is about getting the care that this specific patient population needs out to them as soon as possible. We work together to provide the most optimum care possible in the shortest amount of time.”

While STARS has been carrying out these missions in Alberta for nearly two decades, Saskatchewan crews recently completed their first NICU mission.

During that call, STARS landed in Estevan with Regina General Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit on board. McKay said the mission took half the amount of time it would have if the team went by ground to the patient.

“We landed at the hospital within eight minutes of getting the NICU call,” he said, adding that the patient had some respiratory difficulties and was stabilized at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Estevan before being transported back to the NICU ward at RGH.

Neil Baribeau, a pediatric respiratory therapist, has been part of the specialized PICU team at Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary since 2004. He said team members that participate in STARS missions have many years of experience and receive ongoing training. Additionally, they are recertified annually by STARS.

Being part of the Pediatric Critical Care Transport team is an honour and a privilege, said Baribeau.

“We frequently count on the helicopter to deliver our team to the sickest children in southern Alberta and, in most cases, this quick access to care is their only chance,” he said. “Assistance from the STARS nurse or paramedic is crucial to the care these little people need.”