**Written by AFE pilot, Steven S.**
For several reasons, I have not been able to fly Angel Flights for quite a few months now. Every time I look at the “available flights” email, I miss having the opportunity to do these flights and long for the day I can resume flying Angel Flights. Now that we are all grounded, I am sure that all of the AFE pilots feel the same way. Here are a few memories from some of the flights of which I have had the chance to participate.
Every single AFE flight has been a life changing experience in some way. I have met people from different walks of life that live with different struggles but they ALL have one thing in common. No matter what they are going through, they all have a positive attitude and have lifted my spirits immensely in the short time that I have gotten to spend with them. I think of a family that happened to live in a small Midwestern town that my niece lived in. My niece lived there for a few years and I had never known anyone else from that town. This coincidence was a great ice breaker. This was my first Angel Flight so I was a bit nervous. I’ve flown airplanes for over thirty years but never taken strangers on a very important mission. These “strangers” were not strangers for long. They are a mom and dad raising a family just like my wife and I. However, one of their children fights a painful battle. Even though it must hurt, she plays soccer and excels in her education. She is an inspiration and I am honored to have met these new friends.
This mission was to take a Mom, Dad and their two year old to treatment. The treatment was a long way from where they live and it was needed often. The boy seemed very accustomed to these travels even though what he had to go through when he got there would not be pleasant for an adult – let alone a toddler. When we met before the flight, I was very impressed by the boy’s vocabulary and intelligence. His parents obviously spent a lot of time teaching and nurturing this most precious cargo. During the flight, we found that while he is an exceptional kid, he is also a normal two-year-old. Sometimes you just want the trip to be over and nothing will comfort you. Mom and Dad were very patient and also very apologetic. I admired their patient calming approach. Our own children are many years passed that stage and regrettably I remember not being as patient back then. Although they apologized, no apology was necessary. In fact, I couldn’t help smiling and laughing on the inside because it made me realize how much I miss those days. Crying is hard work and my little buddy soon fell asleep. A peaceful cabin gave us a chance to talk some before this leg would end (too soon for me). The treatments that their son needed were a real financial burden but this Mom and Dad would do anything for their son. I am so glad that the AFE team is here to help families in need.
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Such was the case for this mission. There was a Mom and daughter that needed to get home from a follow up appointment far away from their home in very rural America. Airline flights would have gotten them a little closer to home but the drive from the major airport would still be multiple hours. The drive home from the specialized medical facility that is unique in treating this young lady’s condition would have been multiple days. Unfortunately the pilot scheduled to fly this leg had to cancel and the AFE team scrambled to find a replacement. I was available so I was happy to get the opportunity to fly another AFE mission. I arrived at the designated FBO to find a very cheerful Mom and daughter patiently waiting to get home. Mom (we’ll call her Mary) and her teenage girl (we’ll call her Jane) were very pleasant and both had easy smiles. Mary and Jane had been away from home for quite a while so after a quick briefing we were ready to go. The weather was absolutely beautiful and these were expert passengers. I was very surprised to hear Jane offer to carry her Mom’s suitcase out to the airplane as she was still recovering from major surgery. Once underway and enjoying the glassy smooth air in cruise, Mary explained some of what Jane was going through. She shared some pictures of x-rays and I was shocked to learn that Jane had a condition since birth that left her missing a good portion of the bones in her shoulder/collar bone area. The surgery she had was to cobble together some type of bone structure so that Jane could have better function of that arm. I’m no doctor but I am quite sure Jane was in a great deal of pain. I am sure that I would be laying on the couch in agony. But Jane is much stronger than me. She was determined to live life to the fullest and not let a couple missing bones slow her down. Awesome!!!
These are just a few of the many lives that have been helped by the AFE team. Thank you to the men and women that keep everything under control and running from the palatial headquarters at Wings Field! Let’s hope that this cancellation culture ends soon and actual science wins out so important work like they do at AFE can safely carry on.