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Editorial: Three reasons Why We Need a Heliport

CHICAGO — Matt Kazlauski, 12, almost lost a leg when he was 5 years old after a riding lawn mower accident at his home in Aurora. Jake Byers, 10, of Oak Brook, was hit in the head by a baseball while playing catch. Lindsay Matthias, 12, was rushed to a hospital in Kankakee with flu-like symptoms that turned out to be severe blood poisoning.

These children and several hundred others over 20 years have been flown by helicopter to Children s Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park. In all that time, not one helicopter has crashed on its rooftop heliport, according to a Children s Memorial report. There are 138 hospital heliports in Illinois, and none of them has had an accident either. Safety is not an issue for the patients or the people who live and work around these hospitals.

Safety is an issue for the young patients who have used Children s helicopter facilities. In the past six years, officials say, its heliport has been used for an average of 73 children a year, or about six a month.

The landing pad at Children s has been used sparingly to transfer donor organs and critically ill and injured patients for treatment when delays caused by street traffic could mean the child will die.

Time is of the essence in cases like this, said Matt s mother, Michelle Kazlauski, who said the lawn mower severed the main artery in his left leg and partially amputated his left foot.

His injuries were so severe the ambulance driver didn t want to take him to the local hospital. They called the dispatcher and said, We need a helicopter now. I absolutely think it saved his life.

Now Children s wants to build a 22-story hospital in Streeterville, where it would be close to other medical facilities. This page has argued that the new location for Children s Memorial Hospital in Streeterville next to Northwestern University s Feinberg School of Medicine makes sense and that the quibbling over a heliport s safety is without merit.

Residents in nearby condos, represented by the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, object to the heliport, citing noise and the possibility of a crash. Even if the Chicago Plan Commission approves the hospital and heliport, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration would still need to OK its use.

Hospital officials say a heliport is an absolute necessity, and we agree. Seconds count in medical emergencies. No sick or injured child should die while waiting to be transferred by ambulance in heavy traffic: Chicago area highways are rated the third most clogged in the nation.

Steve Byers said a five- or 10-minute delay of emergency surgery could have left Jake permanently brain damaged or dead.

The probability of a helicopter crash is remote, he said. The probability of a kid dying because he doesn t get to a hospital in time is not.