Father testifies in helipad hearing

July 24, 2009 (CHICAGO) The father of a child who may have died without the service of a medical helicopter testified in favor of it. But critics say they're worried about helicopters landing in such a busy neighborhood.

The Illinois Department of Transportation will make the final decision following a series of public hearings.

Twenty-two month-old Fintan Schiltz is full of energy and curiosity like any other toddler his age. He's full of life. That's thanks to a new heart from a transplant and his parents say because of the helicopter that brought him from St. Charles to the Lincoln Park hospital quickly for treatment.

"It's as simple as having a heliport will save children's lives and not having one will mean children's lives will be lost," said Mark Schiltz, father.

The Schiltz family came from St. Charles to testify in favor to the proposed helipad at the new Children's Memorial Hospital under construction in the Streeterville neighborhood. A panel of experts from the Illinois Department of Transportation is listening to testimony on the issue before deciding whether to approve it.

One neighbor brought in books with 29,000 petition signatures and letters in support of the helipad. But the board also heard from residents opposed to the plan. They say they're concerned about safety and that the strong winds off the lake make a rooftop helipad in the area a risky proposition.

"You can walk 10 feet up the block, the wind pattern changes, walk 10 feet up the block, the wind pattern changes again. We're talking about all this happening at 400 feet," said Patty Frost, Streeterville Residents Organization.

Some residents point to the crash of a medical helicopter last October on its way to Children's Memorial as reason to oppose a helipad at the new site. Fourteen-month-old Kirsten Blockinger and three others were killed in the crash.

But hospital administrators say they've done safety studies and an average of just 73 patients a year would be transported by the helicopter.

"For about 3 percent of the children, the ambulance is not fast enough. So we have to have the ability to get them to us as quickly as possible," said Mary Kate Daly, Children's Memorial Hospital.

IDOT has scheduled a fourth and final public hearing on the issue on Saturday afternoon. After that they say they will consider everything they've heard before making a final decision.

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