A SkyLife helicopter rests on the helipad at Kaweah Delta Hospital in Visalia. Kaweah Delta has the only trauma center between Fresno and Bakersfield and its helipad recently celebrated 1,000 landings. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
Kaweah Delta Hospital in Visalia marked a milestone moment last week when it celebrated 1,000 landings on its helipad.
“In the two years that I’ve been here, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge,” said Dr. Ed Hirsch, vice president and chief medical and quality officer for Kaweah Delta. “Or appropriate for today, flights in the air.”
The helipad was first constructed at the Visalia hospital in 2013, and is credited with saving hundreds of lives and providing quick transportation to less accessible areas. Currently, Kaweah Delta has the only trauma center in the Tulare and Kings County area. It is also the only trauma center between Fresno and Bakersfield.
Dr. Nichole S. Atherton, the trauma medical director for the hospital, emphasized the importance of the helipad to the trauma center.
With traumatic injuries, Dr. Atherton said that there is a “golden hour,” a reference to the first 60 minutes after a patient is injured and when care is administered. Studies show that patients who receive treatment within this hour have a better chance of surviving than those who do not.
Consequently, those who live or are injured in rural areas have thinner chances at survival than those who live in metropolitan areas.
“There are many areas in our region that are difficult to access by ground,” Dr. Atherton said. “Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, rural locations, in-between small towns and even other remote communities that are a number of miles from the trauma center.”
Dr. Atherton attributed the helipad to providing faster access to treatment for these patients, thus giving the largely rural South Valley a metropolitan level of care. This was affirmed by Lisa Epps, the SkyLife program director.
“Time is of the essence. This helicopter saves so many lives,” Epps said. “Maybe close to 1,000 lives saved.”
One of those lives saved was Elise Peltzer, an employee at Kaweah Delta Hospital.
“I knew how valuable this helipad would be for the community that I had actually donated money to the project,” Peltzer said. At the time, I didn’t realize just how valuable the helipad would be for me.”
Born with a congenital heart disease, Peltzer woke up on the morning of June 26, 2013 feeling ill. After getting lab work done, she was informed that she needed to get to UCLA immediately, where she was being evaluated for a transplant.
Peltzer left with her mother for Los Angeles when her phone rang again.
“Before we could get out of Visalia, I received another call from UCLA saying that they had seen my labs and I needed to get to a hospital as soon as possible,” Peltzer said. “I told him that I was already on my way to UCLA and they said I would never make the ride.”
Peltzer had to be stabilized at Kaweah Delta, after which she was airlifted to UCLA.
“If Kaweah Delta had not had the helipad, I’m positive I would not be standing here today,” Peltzer said. “The helipad saved my life and has and will continue to save so many more lives.”