When asked why he joined Angel Flight East (AFE), volunteer pilot Craig Groff replied, “because I’ve been so blessed in my life with the things I’ve been able to do with my plane for me and my family, I wanted to share and help those who truly need it.” Groff was told about AFE through a hangar-mate and fellow AFE volunteer pilot. “I never felt qualified enough,” Groff stated humbly when asked about joining Angel Flight East.
After flying 10 missions with AFE, Craig shared with us that the Martin family and their young son Brayton holds a special place in his heart. The Martin family have spent most of their young son’s life in the confines of a hospital. Brayton came down with a high fever and suspicious red spots on his torso and a head cold at 7 weeks of age. The doctors realized that Brayton was seriously ill and requested specialized treatment from doctors at AI Dupont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, DE.
Tests were conducted and they suspected little Brayton had Leukemia, but instead he had a rare disorder of the immune system known as Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). HLH affects one out of every one million newborn children. Little Brayton was flown from AI Dupont Children’s to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where doctors are more familiar with this rare disease.
Brayton required weeks of chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant, which is the only known cure for HLH. Plagued with complications from the transplant, Brayton spent most of 2009 living in the hospital. He became very ill again and was flown back out to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where he was diagnosed with another rare blood disorder called autoimmune hemolytic anemia. This is an uncommon side effect of a bone marrow transplant. He spent four months in the hospital until he was able to return home again. Since then Brayton has had weekly visits to Dupont Children’s hospital and has been flown back to Cincinnati for check-ups due to complications. Brayton’s immune system is still low-functioning so he is unable to fly commercially, which is where Angel Flight East and Pilot Craig Goff have stepped in to help.
After having the opportunity to meet the Martin family and see the struggles this young family has been through, Groff simply states, “we are so blessed.” The Martins have a similar feeling about Pilot Craig. “From our first flight with Pilot Craig, he has always been attentive to Brayton’s safety needs. He goes above and beyond, and has truly been an angel,” Lisa Martin graciously responded when asked about Craig Groff. She also shared an example where Craig has gone above and beyond for their family. “On one particular occasion a pilot couldn’t be found to make the whole flight out to Cincinnati, so the flight was going to be separated into two flights. Craig saw our need and decided to take us the entire trip. Not only did he take us on a non-stop flight, but since that particular appointment was a short stay, he spent the night in Cincinnati to take us back the next afternoon. This is just one example of how Craig has dedicated himself to helping others. He has always been willing to work with our family to get us to and from the hospital safely. We would not be able to do it without him.”
Most of us will probably never come close to experiencing what the Martin family has faced, but we are thankful that we can share their story and the story of the people whose lives they have touched. We thank Craig Groff for his continuing involvement and commitment to AFE. We are truly grateful for how he has chosen to share his time and his gift of flying with us.