Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

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William Binder, MD: Heart of Bold

A self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, neonatologist William S. Binder, MD, gets part of his fix leading the airborne Neonatal Transport Program: When fragile preemies born in Southern California hospitals require critical care, Binder and his specialized team jump into a helicopter and bring the newborns swiftly and safely to Cedars-Sinai’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Off the clock, the medical director of the Neonatal Transport Program at Cedars-Sinai’s Maxine Dunitz Children’s Health Center skydives to sate his passion for taking flight.

Taking the plunge: “Skydiving became my outlet in medical school because you have no distractions. You can’t think about anything else – you’re totally in the moment, and it becomes a sort of physical meditation.”

Free falling: Binder participates in competitive formation skydiving – the art of building configurations in free fall (without your parachute open) with groups of people. The falls typically last for about 60 seconds and start at an altitude of 12,500 feet. “But you don’t feel like you’re falling; you feel like you’re flying. Doesn’t every little kid dream of flying?”

Diving in: “I see a strong correlation between my work and skydiving – especially with the intensity of each. Both require so much team practice, whether it’s a formation or the resuscitation of a very premature infant. But when the real moment comes, you have to relax and trust your team. In both, you’re working together, you’re working against the clock, and you have to communicate nonverbally under pressure. You also need to know how to properly debrief.”

High stakes: In 2006, the king of Thailand invited Binder to participate in the largest formation ever – 400 people – which became a Guinness World Record. Binder’s 2009 team won a gold medal at the U.S. National Skydiving Championships. He is now part of a group of 500 people set on breaking the world record for largest formation. Their first step will be setting a new U.S. national record, with 333 skydivers in formation, scheduled to take place in Arizona in November.

Big picture: “There is still so much more to learn and understand about how to care for extremely premature babies. It’s like a big, vast, unknown frontier, and that’s where the sense of adventure comes in.”

Awww-some: An unflinching daredevil, Binder admits that, although jumping head first out of an airplane doesn’t make him weak in the knees, the sight of a brand-new baby probably always will. “When I’m in a delivery room and a baby is born, it truly is like witnessing a little miracle. I get to see the amazing changes a baby goes through to adapt from life in the womb to life in the world, and it’s incredible.”