Saving Lives with S-76 is Helinet’s 'Most Important Mission'

Saving Lives with S-76 is Helinet’s 'Most Important Mission'
September 11, 2019

As a seventh-grader, Max Page’s serious blood infection and rapidly declining health put his medical team at an Orange County, California, hospital on high alert.

“Max had been suffering, and we couldn’t figure it out,” recalls Jennifer Page, Max’s mother.

Because Max was born with a congenital heart defect known as tetralogy of Fallot, his family was no stranger to hospitals. But this hospital visit was different. With his condition changing by the second, Max needed to get to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) pronto, where he could be treated with the larger hospital’s resources.

A Sikorsky S-76®, outfitted as an air ambulance, raced to rescue Max.

The program’s humble beginnings

Helinet Aviation has served CHLA with an emergency helicopter transport program since 1999 when Judy Sherif, CHLA’s emergency transport program manager, approached Helinet’s then-CEO, Alan Purwin, and asked him for a major donation.

“We have a lot of sick kids, and our families can’t always pay for the care they get,” Judy told him. A helicopter program could only work for CHLA if it didn’t put a strain on the hospital’s or families’ wallets. Judy asked if Helinet could provide the helicopters, pilots, maintenance and all other associated expenses at no cost to CHLA. Judy waited with bated breath to hear back from Alan, who was excited but wanted to discuss things with his wife before making a decision.

When Alan brought the idea home to Kathryn Purwin, the couple quickly concluded they were all in. “There really wasn’t much of a discussion,” Kathryn says. “I was on board from the moment he walked in and told me this is something we should think about doing.”

After Alan died in a passenger plane crash in 2015, Kathryn assumed Helinet’s CEO position. The hospital decided to honor Alan’s legacy by naming the program after him. Although Helinet flies everything from news video crews to celebrity VIPs, “The Alan Purwin Emergency Transport Program means everything to me,” Kathryn shares. “We feel like Alan’s legacy is living on every time we fly.”

S-76 means safe, rapid transportation

Twenty years and 10,000 children later, the Alan Purwin Emergency Transport Program is thriving. Two Sikorsky S-76 helicopters provide safe, rapid transportation for patients and their families throughout Southern California and beyond. Helinet continues to fund the program on its own dime.

The pilot and medical crew pose for a photo in front of the CHLA helicopter. The S-76’s large size allows plenty of room for a parent, medical crew, and even a full-sized gurney. Photo provided.

“There’s a lot of reasons we’re committed to using the S-76 for this commitment to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles,” Kathryn explains. With a cabin larger than that of similar aircraft, the S-76 provides ample room for a parent ride-along, full medical team and the equipment needed to work on the patient en-route if necessary.

Brian Andrus, Helinet pilot on the CHLA program, notes multiple advantages of flying the S-76 for this mission. “We had looked at other helicopters a little smaller and they just weren’t going to be up to the task because there wasn’t enough cabin room,” he says. Plus, with the S-76’s retractable landing gear, “We’re able to go at much higher speeds than most of the other medical helicopters out there,” Brian says. The S-76’s smooth and agile performance allows it to fly effortlessly among the West Coast’s mountainous, desert terrain — all while avoiding the region’s notoriously heavy traffic.

“I speak for all 85 Helinet team members when I say this is our most important mission,” says Kathryn. “Our real VIPs are the 475 children we flew to Children’s Hospital last year.”

Max puts on a smile during his S-76 helicopter ride from Orange County to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where he was treated for a blood infection. Photo provided.

Two years after Max’s emergency helicopter transport to CHLA, he’s recovered and doing well. “I’m feeling great, feeling better than ever — just finished my freshman year of high school,” he adds.

Over his 14 years of life, Max’s 13 surgeries, including four pacemakers and three pulmonary valves, have made him a resilient teenager and grown his family’s faith tremendously.

“There’s so much I can’t do for Max on this journey as his mom. I’m helpless in so many ways,” says Jennifer. “The one thing I can do is provide him the best care I can find for him and get him treatment as quickly as possible.”

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