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OSF HealthCare, Advanced Medical Transport partner to send ambulance to Ukraine

An Advanced Medical Transport ambulance in Poland en route to Ukraine. The ambulance was sent from Peoria, stocked with medical supplies to help the war-torn country.
OSF HealthCare
An Advanced Medical Transport ambulance in Poland en route to Ukraine. The ambulance was sent from Peoria, stocked with medical supplies to help the war-torn country.

Chris Manson, a government relations worker for OSF HealthCare in Peoria, was facing some tough questions about the human suffering in Ukraine from his 7-year-old daughter.

Putting his job skills to work, Manson contacted the Ukrainian consulate to inquire if his family could help by providing a some medical supplies. The call put into motion a sequence of top-secret maneuvers that culminated with a fully-stocked ambulance loaded onto a 747 jet at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on March 29, bound for Ukraine via Luxembourg and Poland.

Fearing the highly anticipated gift might become a target for Russian invaders, the project was kept under wraps until the ambulance, a gift from Peoria-based Advanced Medical Transport (AMT), was delivered into the hands of Ukrainian officials last week.

“We’re the largest downstate ambulance service in Illinois, with about 75 ambulances in our fleet. There are always new ones coming online and older ones rotating out of service. When the ask came in, it just so happened we had exactly what they were looking for in our fleet — a vehicle ready to rotate out, but with still a lot of usefulness left in it,” said Josh Bradshaw, community relations manager for AMT, 1718 N. Sterling Ave., Peoria.

The “ask” came directly from Manson, in the form of a phone call to AMT CEO Andrew Rand.

“I called Andrew and to his credit, I explained what had happened, very quickly after he said, ‘You know, it's the least we can do. We're happy to help. We'll get you an ambulance. Do you want gas or diesel?’” Manson said in a video provided by OSF Healthcare. “I was blown away by the generosity and his willingness to just jump right in. And from that point forward, we're kind of like, okay, I think this is actually going to happen if I can figure out a way to get the ambulance over to Ukraine.”

Thanks to the generosity of OSF Healthcare, the Peoria Fire Department, OSF Mission Partners (employees) and others, the ambulance was delivered to O’Hare stuffed with a variety of medical supplies, including wound care materials. Working with the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA), the ambulance was loaded into a Boeing 747 cargo jet on March 29 along with 356 pallets of supplies collected by UMANA. The transfer of the ambulance was facilitated through the office of U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., with Manson in attendance.

“I was most nervous until I saw the ambulance literally on the 747. Once it was on the 747 and I'd met with the Ukrainian consulate in person and seeing everything on the plane and in motion, I started to kind of take a breath and say, ‘Okay, this is happening,'” said Manson, adding the jet had landed in Luxembourg and the ambulance has been transported to Poland. “It’s my understanding it'll be brought into a certain point and they'll take out most of the extra medical supplies that they will just take (it) to probably one hospital to be distributed to others. The ambulance then will pretty quickly move forward into either a combat zone, or another area of the conflict and it'll be put right to use.”

Bradshaw said that as of April 8, the ambulance could be in actual service in Ukraine. “I don’t know the ultimate destination within the country. They kept this very quiet until it reached its destination so that it would not become a target. It was blessed on March 24 and started its journey that very same day, and it’s my understanding it just arrived the middle of this week,” he said.

According to Manson, AMT’s gift has inspired other health systems and ambulance services to reach out about how they can move forward with similar contributions to Ukraine. “I have now received calls from California, from other places in the country, basically saying, hey, you know, this works, we can get American ambulances over there to the Ukraine,” he said. “What do you think? Are there other opportunities?”

Bradshaw said his company was overjoyed to hear that others also might seek to donate emergency vehicles or medical supplies to help ease the suffering in Ukraine.

“We know those folks need a lot of help, and we certainly have the ability to extend that help. So kudos to everyone who is able to see that need and jump right in and get it filled. Hopefully many others will follow suit,” said Bradshaw, who has helped coordinate similar emergency deliveries from AMT to Costa Rica and Haiti.

At the center of the gift: a 7-year-old girl who, thanks to her father, is seeing what can be done through a simple act of helping others. “This is a horrible situation, this war. But the way everyone's reacting, everyone just wants to help and that's been really cool. And so I think my daughter is seeing that, and I think if anything else, I hope she's just seen that there's a lot of good in this world,” said Manson.

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Tim Alexander is a correspondent for WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.