FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - An infant, who has spent the past seven months at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Lutheran Children's Hospital, has gone home just in time to celebrate her first birthday. Olive Rutkowski flew to her home in Omaha, Neb., thanks to Grace On Wings, a charity air ambulance. Olive's flight was the organization's 200th mission.
Olive was born on August 22, 2011. She was born at 23 weeks, when her parents were visiting relatives around South Bend. Olive spent close to five months at a hospital there, before being transported to Fort Wayne.
Olive's father, Ben Rutkowski said his daughter weighed less than two pounds when she was born. She had pneumonia when she was born.
"Her lungs were very underdeveloped," Rutkowski said. "And what little tiny lungs she had were mostly scar tissue. That's been the biggest hurdle. She got pneumonia again when she was about two-months-old, and they really didn't expect her to survive at all. And it was a miracle that she did."
"We've had to perform CPR on her before," Laura Helmkamp, a registered nurse at the NICU, and Olive's primary nurse for the past five months, said. "We kind of wondered if she would pull through, but she always has. She's a fighter."
Ben and his wife lived in Fort Wayne until recently. A couple months ago, Ben's wife took a job in Omaha, and moved west. Ben stayed behind to stay close to Olive, while finding a way to get the whole family together in Nebraska.
Olive's health condition did not allow her to travel the 600 miles on the ground.
That's when Grace On Wings got involved. The donation-based not-for-profit is based out of Indianapolis.
The organization is a charity flight, staffed with medical personnel.
"It's a ministry," Matt Guy, a flight nurse and medic for Grace On Wings, said. "We do this because of Jesus Christ, and what he has done for us."
The organization has flown patients of all ages. Each flight is uniquely staffed, to make sure all patients have the correct medical attention.
"We wouldn't have been able to go home if it wasn't for them," Rutkowski said. He added that he would have had to stay with relatives around South Bend until he and his family could save enough money to finally get Olive out west. It may have taken several months.
Patients qualifying for Grace On Wings must:
- Be non-ambulatory
- Need to travel a distance of more than 150 miles
- Need medical care during the flight
- Lack the financial resources to pay for a commercial air ambulance flight
- Not have active or untreated MRSA, VRE, or TB
"Honestly, most people would demonstrate some kind of financial need because of the high-cost for an air medical transport," Guy said.
According to Guy, the only cost Grace On Wings recoups is the cost to fuel the airplane. An average trip costs close to $7,000. The total cost to staff the plane would cost a patient close to $17,000.
Grace On Wings only donates the time and resources for the air ambulance, but many times, the organization will get a ground ambulance to donate its time and resources to help get a patient between the airport and hospital.
Olive was expected to spend Monday night at home.
"She's riding home in her car seat, and going to her own bedroom," Rutkowski said.
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