A new twin-engine jet that can fly higher, farther and faster to bring critically ill and injured children to Cook Children’s Medical Center for treatment was unveiled at Meacham International Airport on April 2. The Cessna Citation Encore +, which can transport a young patient, two parents and a medical crew of five nurses, respiratory therapists and paramedics, is a gift from long-time Cook Children’s philanthropist Clarabele “Pit” Dodson. “I asked them (the Teddy Bear Transport team) what they needed most, and they said, ‘We need a jet,’” Dodson said, beaming happily. “I said okay, if you can find the right one, I’ll buy it for you, and they found it.”
The $6.5 million jet joins a King Air B200 critical care transport plane, an American Eurocopter 145 helicopter and four ground ambulances, all fully equipped with the latest pediatric-oriented technology to transfer patients from as far away as Seattle, Wash. The new aircraft, with weather radar, advanced flight instruments and GPS navigation, has a maximum altitude of 45,000 feet to cruise above the weather and can fly up to 1,700 miles without refueling. With nearly 2,500 transports each year, Cook Children’s Teddy Bear Transport team includes 54 full-time pediatric nurses, respiratory therapists, paramedics and communications specialists, who work in 12-hour shifts at the airport and can be “out the door” and on their way in 10 minutes, 24-7, said Debbie Boudreaux, Teddy Bear Transport director and neonatal ICU nurse. “In communication with the doctor and/or emergency room, we can make things happen before we ever get out the door,” Boudreaux said. “The minute we get to a patient, we can fully provide Cook Children’s care…I can’t think of any specialty care we don’t provide,” she said.
Boudreaux helped design the new plane’s interior to make it truly a mobile intensive care unit. “Be sure you brag on the crew,” Dodson said after the unveiling. “Money can build things, that’s true, but without the dedicated people, Teddy Bear Transport would be nothing…I just love that crew…They are so dedicated – all of them. I get to see them (from her home at Trinity Terrace) flying over practically every day. If you ever saw them flying in stormy weather, you would just be amazed.” Dodson said she was thrilled to see her name embroidered in the transport team’s royal blue color on a passenger seat in the plane and to learn that the plane’s tail number is personalized with her husband’s nickname and initials, “TL” Dodson and her birth date. Now she’s ready for a ride.
“They’re going to take me up in it,” she said. “I already have my wings, and I have my helmet and my flight gear. I’m ready to go when they are.” Dodson, who also funded the new Dodson Outpatient Clinics building at Cook Children’s, said she and her late husband have helped support the hospital for more than 20 years. Dodson’s husband, Thomas L. Dodson, was a Wise County rancher who died in 2005. “Our team can, in fact, soar to new heights in taking care of patients,” Rick Merrill, president of Cook Children’s Health Care System, said at the dedication ceremony. “This is the best transport team in the entire world.” The new jet will be put to work in June, as soon as required training hours are complete.