A new bird

Published 9:14 pm Saturday, June 18, 2011

Employees at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital got a chance to take a look at the new Nightingale Regional Air Ambulance recently. The new aircraft is in an intensive training, orientation and outfitting period for the next few weeks, and the old ship is still the daily mission aircraft.

Sentara raises funds to pay for new Nightingale ‘copter

Leslie Peterfeso, a Sentara employee, sees the Nightingale Regional Air Ambulance launch and land every day at its home base at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

Last December, though, Peterfeso became a Nightingale patient in a freak accident at her Suffolk home when a heavy tree limb her husband was sawing fell the wrong way and landed on her head, knocking her to her driveway, where she then struck her forehead.

Faced with bleeding head wounds and possible brain damage, Suffolk paramedics called Nightingale, which took her to Sentara Norfolk General in a way she never expected.

Email newsletter signup

“It can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime,” Peterfeso says. “I believe in Nightingale and I’m supporting it through payroll deduction here at work.”

Through its Saving Minutes, Saving Lives campaign, Sentara is asking for community support to replace the 25-year-old helicopter that has served the Nightingale program since 1996.

The public appeal to support a new Nightingale follows a two-year effort by the Sentara Health Foundation to engage area governments, corporations and foundations to help Sentara purchase a state-of-the-art Eurocopter EC-145, which carries a price tag of $7.2 million. The Foundation’s goal is to raise $3.5 million of that cost through philanthropic and community support.

“We especially hoped the communities that use Nightingale the most would recognize the value of the program to their citizens and visitors,” said Meril Amdursky, Director of the Sentara Health Foundation. “They really came through for us, and we appreciate their generosity and example in supporting our campaign.”

Some of the major gift donors include the Towne Bank Foundation, Currituck County, N.C., the emergency medical services of Pasquotank and Camden counties in North Carolina, the cities of Hampton and Newport News, SunTrust Bank, the Beazley Foundation, Birdsong Corp., Newport News Shipbuilding and the Obici Healthcare Foundation.

Sentara Healthcare has operated Nightingale for almost 30 years as part of its not-for-profit community mission. The program operates at a deficit of as much as $650,000 per year, because Sentara takes care of every Nightingale patient, 24 hours a day, regardless of health insurance or ability to pay.

“There is no doubt that the lives of Eastern Shore residents are enhanced by this air ambulance,” said Lucius Kellam, a business and community leader on the remote Eastern Shore of Virginia. “It is a resource that links our community with the most advanced trauma care.”

Every year, Nightingale touches the lives of almost 700 critically ill and injured patients at accident scenes and outlying community hospitals. When minutes count, Nightingale can change an hour-long ambulance ride to a rapid flight that can mean the difference between life and death.

“We are close to our fundraising goal, but we’re not there yet,” said Amdursky of the Sentara Health Foundation. “We have more than $3 million committed to the program, but we’re asking the community to help us get to the finish line.”

Every dollar you donate to Nightingale will help continue the legacy of this lifesaving program and maintain its availability to residents as far away as Ocracoke Island, N.C., the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Charlottesville, officials said.

To contribute or learn more, visit www.sentara.com/foundation and follow the prompts.