It was more than eight years ago, but Kyle Kienitz remembers Dec. 24, 2002, as if it was yesterday. At age 22, the U.S. Marine was home in Brillion on leave when the vehicle he was driving rolled over seven times, ejecting him and leaving him a paraplegic.
ThedaStar responded to the scene and transported him to the Trauma Center at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah where he received lifesaving care and was started on the road to recovery. Today, Kienitz is a college graduate and works full-time in Appleton.
“From the beginning, the people on ThedaStar and later at the hospital helped me become a different individual,” said Kienitz, adding he was intoxicated at the time of the crash and that he made a poor decision. “Because of the way they treated me, I wasn’t discouraged and came out a better person.”
Kienitz is one of more than 10,000 people flown by ThedaStar since it first took to the air in 1986. Based at Theda Clark, ThedaStar was the first medical helicopter north of Madison and Milwaukee when it came into service 25 years ago.
“There have been so many people impacted by ThedaStar through the years,” said Pamela Witt Hillen, a ThedaStar flight nurse since the helicopter’s inaugural flight and one of Kientiz’ flight nurses. “It’s been an amazing experience to be there for people at very difficult times in their lives.”
In recognition of ThedaStar’s 25 years of service to the region, Mayor George Scherck is proclaiming June 6 as ThedaStar Day in the City of Neenah.
ThedaStar’s primary coverage area is a 60-mile radius around Neenah, but it also transports patients to Marshfield, Upper Michigan, Milwaukee and Madison. The craft’s twin engines also mean it can fly over large bodies of water, such as Lake Winnebago, which speeds up response time.
ThedaStar would not have taken off on its inaugural flight to Oconto in June 1986 without the support of hundreds of community members, including the Theda Clark Medical Center Foundation, said Kathryn Correia, president of Theda Clark and Appleton Medical Center. “Their support has made the difference between life and death for thousands of people, and made it possible for ThedaStar to help critically ill and injured patients,” said Correia.
The current ThedaStar – the third incarnation – came into service two years ago and includes the latest technology and equipment designed to keep crew and patients safe, said ThedaStar manager Kelly Jung. The twin-engine Eurocopter E-135 was among the world’s first air ambulance to use the Honeywell Collision Avoidance Technology. Pilots can wear night goggles and can fly by instrument flight rules (IFR), which means they can fly more safely in inclement weather and darkness.
“Our local EMS, fire and police crews play an integral role in helping ThedaStar transport patients as quickly as possible to a location where they can receive the best possible care,” Jung said. “We also are appreciative of our referring hospitals for their partnership. The goal is always to get the patient where they need to be within one hour of a stroke, heart attack or trauma. By getting patients to our Level II Trauma Center within that ‘golden hour,’ we put them in the best possible position for a positive outcome.”
Theda Clark Medical Center is a 166-bed acute care hospital founded in 1909. In addition to general medical and surgical care, specialized services include a birth center, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin - Fox Valley, the region’s only American College of Surgeons Verified Level II Trauma Center, the Aylward Outpatient Surgery Center and ThedaStar Air Medical Helicopter. Theda Clark Medical Center also offers comprehensive neuroscience care and the Theda Clark Stroke Center was the first stroke center in Northeast Wisconsin to be certified as a Primary Stroke Center by The Joint Commission. The Bariatric Program at Theda Clark, along with Midwest Bariatric Solutions and its surgeons, have jointly received two Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence designations by the American College of Surgeons and the American Society for Bariatric Surgery.
ThedaCare™ is a community health system consisting of five hospitals: Appleton Medical Center, Theda Clark Medical Center, New London Family Medical Center, Shawano Medical Center, and Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca. ThedaCare also includes ThedaCare Physicians, ThedaCare Behavioral Health, and ThedaCare at Home. ThedaCare is the largest employer in Northeast Wisconsin with more than 6,175 employees. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
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