Feb. 16, 2006 — While the tragic death in 2001 of former Antilles School Headmaster Mark C. Marin touched the local community, his good friend Ricardo Charaf was inspired to improve medical services in the territory.
"It was because of Mark's death that a dream was born," Charaf said after speaking at opening ceremonies late Thursday afternoon for the new Charaf Family Heliport at Schneider Regional Medical Center. Beaming, and somewhat teary eyed, Charaf explained that Marin was unable to be immediately flown out of the territory after suffering a fatal head injury, since there was no heliport nearby certified for night landings.
"I don't want what happened to Mark to happen to others," Charaf said. "Trauma victims have to be able to be moved at a moment's notice, and this helipad will facilitate that kind of speedy transport and help us save more lives."
Dee Baecher-Brown, president of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI), said construction of the heliport has been two years in the making and is part of the of the Charaf family's commitment to upgrade the services and facilities at Schneider Regional.
"Other donors have also pledged their support to expand emergency and trauma services at the hospital," Baecher-Brown said. "Right now, a CFVI fund has been created by Medical Air Services International for improvements to the hospital, and Richard Driehaus, through the Driehaus Community Development Fund, has committed $65,000 for the same purpose."
Funding for the heliport, which Charaf said exceeds $10,000, came from the Charaf Family Fund, which is also under CFVI. Charaf himself has been chair of CVFI's board since 2001.
During Thursday's ceremony – which drew about 150 community members, along with various government officials and media outlets – Charaf and his wife, Josefina Pasarell Charaf, were able to take a ride in the first helicopter to land at the heliport. The couple was accompanied by Rodney E. Miller Sr., Schneider Regional's chief executive officer, and June A. Adams, chair of the hospital's board.
"I'm very excited about this," Miller said after the ride. "It really is a historic day in the Virgin Islands – a great day for Schneider Regional. We're very lucky and very proud to have people like the Charafs supporting us, and because of their generous gift, we'll be able to greatly improve our emergency services in and out of the territory."
While the hospital does not currently own a helicopter, Miller said patients could be transported in and out by emergency air ambulances, Coast Guard helicopters, or helicopters owned by private citizens. "Sometimes the mega-yachts that dock downtown have helicopters and helipads," he added. "So, it's not critical for us to own one right now. What's important is that the new heliport would allow for people to be flown in or brought out of the hospital quickly. Before we had this, pilots had to land in the parking lot, and that didn't work out very well."
During the ceremony, Adams said transportation time from St. Thomas to St. Croix in a helicopter is eight to nine minutes, while a ride to St. John is three minutes. "When you think about the time that it takes for a heart to stop beating, you'll know that those minutes are precious," she said. "And this heliport represents the first phase of what we promised to deliver to the citizens of the territory – optimum health care delivery."
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