Familiar rescue chopper looking sharper

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 11, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

It’s hard to rattle a &uot;Top Gun&uot; Navy Pilot, but former flier Dave Bashista is excited and proud of the new landing pad and new colors Nightingale Air Ambulance is now flying.

Bashista said he is pleased that Nightingale now has its own special landing pad at its base headquarters located on the grounds of Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

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&uot;For one thing, we won’t have to move Nightingale off the landing pad as we did before and the new pad, designated only for Nightingale makes landing much safer for pilots,&uot; he said. &uot;Also, they painted the 60 foot square helicopter pad white with a huge red &uot;H&uot; in the center to mark the hospital’s landing zone.&uot;

Bashista, who spent 20 years with the Navy and flew for the Virginia State Police, has been flying Nightingale for only 15 months, but he’s in love with the big bird.

&uot;Nightingale has been refurbished with the interior and the outside is sparkling with new paint,&uot; he said. &uot;They also added a new Global Positioning System (GPS) that is state of the art and that alone will make flying Nightingale much safer.&uot;

Bashista said that when he returned to Hampton Roads from Abingdon he wanted to continue flying and he found out about Nightingale, a means of helping the community and often the transportation that helps save lives.

&uot;I look forward to flying with Nightingale for many more years,&uot; said the pilot. &uot;I work alongside some other great pilots including our base manager, John Stanley, who has been here for 15 years. Pilot Cam Ebel has been here for 19 years, and Dick Fedorowicz has been flying for Nightingale for 21 years. That’s a heck of a lot of experience and all of us were former military pilots.&uot;

Bashista said the team often receives questions from observers who witness Nightingale’s life-saving activities, including the type of flights the big bird makes.

&uot;Nightingale is typically requested for three types of flights – scene operations, inter-facility and mutual aid flights, where we assist other localities,&uot; said Bashista. &uot;Nightingale flies mostly trauma patients from car accidents, falls, burns or gunshot wounds.&uot;

In Suffolk, Nightingale often serves Obici Hospital where they also have a landing pad specifically for the helicopter. Dr. Cynthia Dorr, medical director of the Obici Hospital Emergency Department, said the helicopter and its pilots provide excellent care.

&uot;They have very compassionate nursing and paramedical professionals,&uot; said Dorr. &uot;It’s a service we can’t do without, especially as big and spread out as Suffolk is. It makes our transport times much quicker since it is the fastest transport we can get to a Level I trauma center.&uot;

The bright new paint job on Nightingale is bound to turn a few heads. The new paint job changed the design but kept the familiar red, gray and white colors, and she carries new medical equipment and has upgrades on the engine.

&uot;Some of the new medical equipment will change the scope of our service, allowing us to not only offer a broader range of excellent medical services to our cardiac patients but give us even more advanced technology to provide first rate care for our trauma patients&uot; said Kathleen Colantuaono, Nightingale Team coordinator.

&uot;The engine uprades will help improve the efficiency of running Nightingale.&uot;

The new equipment includes a ventilator for patients who need assistance breathing, a balloon pump for cardiac by-pass patients, and an upgraded cardiac monitor that will give flight nurses better heart data to pass on to the hospital in-flight.

The refurbishment included a new interior due to the wear-and-tear of daily use, a new tail rotor, and new exhaust technology to make the engine burn cleaner. Three different aircraft models have worn the name of Nightingale. The latest model is the German-made American Europter BK-117.

The Nightingale program, in its 22nd year, is one of the signature services that sets Sentara Healthcare apart as the premiere provider of hospital and health care services in this region.

The nation’s 38th air medical program and the regions only air ambulance, Nightingale has transported thousands of critically ill patients, primarily from Hampton Roads, to the helping hands of trained medical professionals all over Virginia.