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Saskatchewan News

PHOTOS: STARS helicopter launch in Regina Monday

Up in the air with the new air ambulance
Reported by Natalie Geddes
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The launch of Saskatchewan’s first emergency helicopter ambulance, known as STARS, marks a revolutionary day for healthcare in our province.

As of noon on Monday, the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) helicopter and crew are now on standby for any kind of life sensitive emergency in rural or northern Saskatchewan.

Moose Jaw’s Larry Hunt has been pushing for the service in Saskatchewan. He’s sure he wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the STARS service.

Nearly a decade ago Hunt was on a highway near Barhead, north of Edmonton, when he and his wife hit black ice.

“We were t-boned in a severe car wreck… I had a blood clot on the brain, my leg was twisted completely around, I was in very bad shape … In a road ambulance I would have never have made it,” said Hunt.

But the STARS helicopter was there. Hunt was in a coma for two days, in hospital for a month and out of work for six months.

On Monday, Hunt joined the crew on a test flight. Among the crew is paramedic Jon Antal.  He says taking his work to the air is a dream come true.

“We can bring that patient back in to a trauma surgeon here in Regina very quickly,” he said. “We prefer to take one critically ill or injured patient but we do have the ability to take two if we need.”

Pilot Jason Oblinski has run over 60 missions with STARS in Alberta. Those missions were into the mountains.

“People talk about Saskatchewan being flat but it really doesn’t matter what the rest of the province is doing, just the 100 feet or so around us,” said Oblinski.

STARS president and CEO Andrea Robertson says the bright red helicopter can be in the air eight minutes from a 911 call. It can move more than twice as fast as an ambulance on the ground.

"STARS is intended to add another tool to that big toolbox that's called healthcare in Saskatchewan and we think we can really help - working with our partners to really make a difference," she said.

Robertson explains what happens when a  call is made to 911.

"We would talk about what's wrong with the patient our physicians would get online and we'd determine if we should go, if we should talk to one of our partners about them going and then the decision's made. (The) patient needs us, we launch and we'll be there."

The chopper will be crewed by two pilots, a paramedic and a registered nurse. She explained their training.

"Those two air medical crew go through our in depth training at STARS, which is an additional 10 weeks of critical care air transport medicine training," said Robertson.

From now on, a STARS helicopter will be based from Regina. This fall, another will be added to Saskatoon. By the end of next year a larger and faster helicopter will replace the Saskatoon chopper to better serve areas in the north.

Saskatchewan’s health minister, Don McMorris, is calling this an historic development.

“Other provinces have seen it. We are finally getting up to speed,” said McMorris.

Funding to STARS is also unique, creating a public and private partnership. The province has agreed to $10 million a year for the service. Patients will be charged $350 per flight, but major donations are also what will keep this going. To date, several major donors have stepped forward.

They are:
•    Crescent Point Energy ($5 million)
•    Mosaic Potash ($5.5 million towards a helicopter and hangar in Regina)
•    PotashCorp (funding for a hangar and an AW139 helicopter in Saskatoon; the estimated value of these assets is $27 million)
•    Enbridge ($500,000)
•    Enerplus ($300,000)
•    Husky Energy ($250,000)
•    Rawlco Radio ($100,000)

Edited by CJME's Karen Brownlee