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Teenage LifeFlight Patient Helps Plot Landing Zones in Maine

BANGOR, Maine. -- There are a few more landing zones in town for the LifeFlight helicopter thanks to the efforts of a teenager who, a year and a half ago, was flown to Bangor aboard the emergency chopper, a flight that saved his life.

As part of a school project, Chris Lirakis worked with LifeFlight officials to identify and plot potential landing zones throughout his hometown, doubling the number of areas where the helicopter can land in an emergency.

Chris has done a great project for us, said Thomas Judge, executive director of The LifeFlight Foundation. These landing zones, for us, is a way for us to pre-plan.

Having the landing zones mapped out ahead of time makes the response safer for the helicopter crew and the emergency personnel on the ground, and it helps to make things move more quickly for the patients, he said.

This is very helpful for us in an emergency, said Brooksville Fire Chief Bill Leck. It helps us so much to know where they re going to land, especially when we know they can be there within 15 minutes.

At a small gathering Saturday at the Brooksville Fire Station, LifeFlight officials presented Lirakis with a staff jacket to thank him for his efforts. And surrounded by the neighbors, first responders, firefighters and LifeFlight crew, Lirakis and his family thanked the dozens of people whole helped him survive.

I want to thank everybody, he told the small crowd Saturday. You all played a big part in helping to fix whatever was going on that night.

LifeFlight had planned to fly Lirakis to the gathering and to give him a bird s-eye view of the landing zones he had identified, but the rainy and windy weather Saturday scrapped that flight. They planned to try again Sunday.

On the night of May 6, 2006, Chris suffered a seizure and a stroke, the result of a leaking blood vessel near his brain. His parents were in New York, but a call to neighbors brought the help he would need, including neighbors, local firefighters, and the Brooklin Fire Department s first responders, who were the first medical team to reach the scene. They were the ones who made the decision to call LifeFlight.

That s why we live in Maine, Judge said. We know that when something happens, people will come out of the woodwork to help.

In little towns, it s a case of neighbor helping neighbor, and that night, you had an opportunity to do that. In this case, it saved Chris life.

It was not a good night for flying, but the chopper came. While EMTs did what they could for Chris, Brooksville firefighters went to set up a landing zone. The helicopter arrived within 15 minutes.

Kevin Burkholder was the flight paramedic on the chopper that night. Burkholder said they recognized the symptoms they were seeing in Chris.

We see a lot of kids, but we don t usually see kids that have had a stroke, he said. We didn t know what was causing it, but we knew the symptoms and we treated that.

They got him to the chopper and 14 minutes later, he was at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Kathy Lirakis considers that truly a life flight for her son.

They had to relieve the pressure and they had to get him there quickly, she said. He would not be sitting here right now without LifeFlight.

Chris Lirakis has no memory of any of this.

I remember waking up in the hospital two weeks later, he said.

He spent a month at Eastern Maine Medical Center, and, after several treatments in Boston, underwent surgery to repair the damaged blood vessel. A year later, he is still recuperating from the surgery, a process that doctors tell him will take at least another year. And he is still feeling the effects of the stroke. But he is back in school now and participating in activities. The landing zone project was part of a high school requirement, Lirakis said.

Mom and I were talking about what I could do, and I feel bad that I wasn t the one to think of this first, but she said, How about something with LifeFlight, he said. I hadn t really thought about LifeFlight and what it was. I don t think they get thanked enough for what they do.

After meeting with Judge and other LifeFlight crew members to discuss the criteria for rural landing zones, Lirakis used a LifeFlight global positioning system unit to identify and plot potential landing zone sites in town. With his effort, the town now has 13 sites throughout the community.

It s possible there s some they might not need, he said. Some are better locations than others. I tried to get in as many as I could so they would have some to choose from.

When he was done, Lirakis put together a book containing all the information, including detailed Teasers and photographs of each site, and presented it to LifeFlight.

The Fire Department will review the information Chris developed, and then it will be entered into the LifeFlight computers and be available for any emergency flights to the town.

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