With Angel Flight, not only do you get the convenience of flying across states for your medical treatments, but you also build strong bonds with the staff who take you there. In this special episode, we witness that bond between the Founder of Angel Flight Northeast, Larry Camerlin, and passenger, Tim Kavanagh. Jess Ames and Maddy Beck speak with Larry and Tim about what Angel Flight means to them, celebrating milestones and furthering the mission to provide services that touch so many lives. Tune in to this inspiring conversation to share in on the amazing experience of selfless acts of service and the transformative journeys passengers take through the skies with Angel Flight by them.
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Welcome back with another episode. We have two guests for you. First, we have Larry, who is the Founder of Angel Flight Northeast, as well as a passenger who flies with Angel Flight East through Angel Flight Northeast, Tim.
How are you?
We're great. How are you?
I’m good. Thank you.
Maddie, how are you? It is great to be with you guys.
We are so happy to have you guys. Tim, do you want to get started by telling us a little bit about your journey and your health journey overall?
Sure. Thank you. We'll go back a few years. In May of 2016, I turned 50 years old. It seems like as soon as I turned 50, my warranty ran out on everything. I had my scheduled colonoscopy and was diagnosed with stage two colorectal cancer. I started going through treatments and everything. We were using the local hospital here in Vermont, but things were getting a little bit complicated. We had to use a Boston hospital, Mass General. Is it okay to mention them?
Yeah. Go ahead.
Also, things got a little bit more complicated with my situation. We started looking at Sloan Kettering in New York City. Travel expenses really started getting out of control because we live six hours away from New York City. A cousin of mine who lives in Boston reached out to me. She said, “I know that you're spending a lot of time on the road and in the air. Have you ever heard of Angel Flight?” I'm like, “No. I have not.”
She said the company that she was working for at the time helped raise some money and awareness for Angel Flight Northeast. She gave me the link. I went to their site AND filled out their online questionnaire. It was 45 minutes later that Heather, who's no longer with Angel Flight, reached back out to me and said, “We got your information. You're good to go. We need a doctor's note saying you can fly.” Fast forward to the present, we are coming up on 100 flights with Angel Flight Northeast. Isn't that amazing? It is a huge milestone. My wife and I constantly say that they've helped save my life without a doubt. I would not be here. They've added years to my life.
I also heard you say that they've saved 1,200 hours in a car without you saying it.
Look at all of that time that they have saved. I will tell you that we have met the most wonderful people along with that time or that shortened amount of time. These pilots are amazing. Larry and his entire staff are truly angels. I joked at the Night of Angels but was also very serious. I don't think he should be Father Larry. He should be Saint Larry.
We always talk about how much Angel Flight East does for passengers. We always like to make a point we're not the only organization out there that does this type of work. Larry, can you tell us about Angel Flight Northeast, how you came to find it, and everything you do there as the Founder and is it Executive Director or President? I always get the titles mixed up.
President. Either one, it is fine. Going off what Tim said, we feel very blessed and privileged that we provide 100 flights for Tim and Candy here at Angel Flight Northeast. We started flying you, Tim, if you remember, in December 2018. In another week or so, it will be five years. To save 1,200 hours of driving is amazing. It’s incredible.
I founded Angel Flight Northeast back in 1996. I always wanted to be both a Catholic priest and a pilot. I got the priesthood years ago. In my late 40s, I wanted to get my pilot's license, so I started taking flying lessons. I got my pilot license and went on and got my instrument rating. Being a hospital chaplain for many years in hospice ministry, I knew that they were from the Boston Hospitals and everything and healthcare people that there was a great need to transport people from distances who had to come regularly for medical treatment and where access was prohibitive because of the long car drives they had to do when they were depleted emotionally and physically.
I said, “I'll start one.” I found out from Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic what I had to do. I went down to their offices many years ago. They said, “Let’s start the meeting with a prayer.” I said, “That’s terrific,” and we did. I was in jeans and a sweatshirt back then. It will be 28 years in February 2024. We are very blessed to be flying for almost 28 years, scheduling over 108,000 flights, and flying over 15 million miles to 750 medical centers throughout the United States.
We do this all free of charge. If Tim needed 1 flight, 100 flights, or 100 flights, it would never cost him a penny. We feel very blessed. For us here at Angel Flight Northeast, it's true ministry. We feel that we're doing God's work and answering the call. When He asks us to serve people, we do it in a loving, caring, transformative way.
Do you find that people still think it's too good to be true? That's our biggest challenge in the outreach side of Angel Flight. People still think they're going to get a bill at the end of the flight or it's not a real service.
You hit it. We've done marketing and constantly do marketing. We don't find that from the patients. We find that from the medical staff at hospitals. You’ll go in, give a presentation, and say, “Are there any questions?” Someone will say, a case manager, social worker, or nurse, “We don't believe a word you told us. No one is that altruistic. No companies do what you do. It's too good to be true. You're either going to build a patient or build a hospital. We don't believe you have that many caring, generous pilots who donate their time, the fuel, and the cost of flying the airplane. There's got to be a quid pro quo somewhere.” In 28 years, overcoming that way of thinking is tough. You must find it, too, at East.
Tim, was that your first thought when you first heard about Angel Flight?
I couldn't wrap my head around it. I went to the site, read their About and mission, and said, “I'll fill out this questionnaire.” Heather called me 45 minutes later, and then we were set up for our first flight. As Candy and I continue on this journey, we are constantly waving that Angel Flight flag wherever we go. It's still surprising to me that there are so many people that don't know about the organization itself. We explain it to them. Sometimes, it's like, “Can you pick your jaw back up, please?” They're in such shock and disbelief that there's such an amazing organization out there that is so generous.
As Father Larry said, it's not just his staff, but it's also all these pilots who are donating their time. Wherever we're flying to, whether it's New York, Boston, or back home, the ground crews hear all the flights are changed to Angel Flights. I don't know if they go on best behavior at that point, but the ground crews are amazing to everybody. Everyone's very caring.
We always find that, too. The pilots are so incredibly humble. They love to fly and this gives them a reason to fly. They never want any recognition for what they do as we're singing their praises from the mountaintops, trying to give them all these awards, and making sure everybody knows the time and the money that they give to oftentimes complete strangers to get them to their lifesaving medical care.
Jess, you're right. It has never ceased to amaze me how humble our pilots are and how they want no recognition. They love to fly. This gives them a great reason to fly. Putting a friend in your plane and flying for a hamburger gets old pretty quickly. This gives people a tremendous sense of mission in the way to use the gift of who they are. They are an amazing group of men and women. They're incredibly humble and incredibly giving.
We won't even accept a donation from a patient or family that we're flying. If we're flying someone over 5 years or sometimes, with the children, 15 years and they want to send a donation, we will not accept it because we don't want any sense of quid pro quo or, “You are doing this for me. We have to do something for Angel Flight Northeast.” This is our time to minister to you, give to you, and support you on your journey. We're blessed to be able to do that. I'm sure you feel the same way.
It’s different. Everybody always asks us, “What can we do for you?” I'm like, “Talk about it. Tell people what you did and.” We do the same exact presentations that you were talking about earlier, Larry. I feel like every presentation I give, I was like, “I am more than a spamming Facebook ad. You are going to get a pair of shoes at the end of this. When you press checkout, there will be something at your doorstep. We aren't going to scam you. This is true. This is what we do.”
Many people are always like, “What can I do for you?” I'm like, “Tell people that we're real. Tell people we exist. Tune in to our show and go and share our stuff on Facebook.” It's not so much of a financial request from patients or anything like that. It is helping us make sure that people know who we are.
Tim, do you have a favorite flight that you've done with Northeast that you want to share?
Out of the 100?
Yeah. Which one?
I could never pinpoint it down one flight or one pilot because along with these pilots being such amazing individuals, they also become your friends. They care. It won't surprise me if, at some point, I'll get a text or an email from one of the pilots from the past saying, “Thought about you. Checking in.” It happened not long ago because of The Night of Angels, where I was getting texts from people. We couldn't go because, unfortunately, I'm going through treatment again and I have to lay low a little bit. I was getting texts from pilots and everything, which was so nice. One of the pilots sent a picture of his dessert before and his dessert after, which looked very good.
To me, I would never pinpoint it. I've flown in amazing aircraft. I'm an aviation buff. I will walk out on the tarmac and be walking towards a plane and I'm like, “That's a such-and-such.” Sometimes, I can get right within a ballpark of the year of it. We've flown on everything from a Maule 7, which is a very small single-engine aircraft, to jets. It's unreal. The jets cut down on the travel time more.
I always think once somebody flies in a jet, King Air, or anything like that, they can't go back to the smaller airplanes because it's not the same.
It's not the same. A lot of it is because I love aviation. My wife is with me on every single trip because she's not only my wife but she's my caregiver. At first, she was a little bit nervous about it. As Father Larry said, it was December of 2018. We were in the middle of the start of winter in Vermont, where most of the airplanes had snowplows attached to the front of them. She has become so comfortable about it and loves talking to the pilots, understanding and learning about them. We always find out how they got involved in flying. These people usually have other jobs, too, or this is their retirement gig. This is their hobby. I think, “Wouldn't it be amazing to be in a situation where my hobby could be transporting people in need? How amazing.”
We all love you and Candy, Tim.
It's all about patience. We all get so close. After five years and 100 flights, we're family.
We are family. We certainly are. Jonathan and Georgie in your office are amazing. It never ceases to amaze me. Sometimes, I'll forget and be like, “I didn't put in a flight request.” It might be a Friday late afternoon and I'll put it in. They're like, “No problem. We'll put it in.” Over the weekend, they'll be like, “Here's who's picking up the first part of your leg.” No mission. They have focused attention to every detail, which is unbelievable.
I have to bring this up. Can you tell us a little bit about your coping mechanism with your diagnosis?
I'm not going to tell you the name of the show because that would be swearing in front of Father Larry.
I'll tell you how I got there. I've always been involved in entertainment. I learned at a very young age. It was in third grade in Mrs. Ludus' class that I learned how to make my classmates laugh. I thought, “This is amazing. Why do I have to study when I can make people laugh?” My focus became, “I want to be the class clown. That's all I want.” When my parents would say, “What do you want to do?” I'm like, “I want to be the class clown.” They're like, “Let's talk about this.” They thought my priorities were a little bit mixed up.
Fast forward to where I am with my diagnosis, even though you're going through something as traumatic as a cancer diagnosis, there are things along the way that happen that you look back on and it is funny. After seven-plus years of going through cancer treatments, over 30 surgeries, my 5th time of systemic chemo, and on radiation for 4 times, there has been a lot of stuff along the way where it's like, “How can this happen?”
Friends of mine who really know me well are like, “What are you going to do with this information? Your stories are gold.” My wife and I talked about it. One day, I said to her, “I have to do a show. It has to be a one-man show and I have to deliver it.” She goes, “What are you going to call it?” Right there, I knew. I'm like, “It's got to be The Shit Show because I have colorectal cancer.”
I've been doing different versions of The Shit Show. The first one was The Shit Show: How One Man Dealt with Cancer while Life Was Circling the Drain. The second time I was diagnosed, it was The Shit Show: Part 2 of My Number 2, and then so on. At my fourth diagnosis, it's more like The Shit Show: Are You Shitting Me?
I did a version. I was a keynote speaker. I have done a lot of keynote speaking at different conferences and cancer-related events. I love it because it's therapeutic for me. I get to tell Candy's and my side of the story. We're always talking about Angel Flight in there and the journeys along the way. Even the one that I did, people come up to me afterward and are like, “Thank God for telling that story. I'm a caregiver. What you told us happened to my best friend, but they wouldn't go in public with it like you did.” I feel that cancer does not want you to be happy. They don't want you to laugh. I'm not saying that cancer is funny. I’m saying that we have to find our own coping mechanisms to be able to get through our own personal journey. Mine is humor and energy because it's what I really know best.
It's hilarious. I remember when you sent it to me. I was watching it. Maddie and I previously shared an office. She was like, “What are you watching?” I was like, “Tim's comedy standup. It's amazing.”
Thank you so much.
I don't know if you'll follow this one or not. We’ll bring the cat out of the bag. There are these TikToks where it's these women listening to comedies about male comedians talking about what it's like to be married, and them filming their husbands and the husbands are nodding along laughing. I felt like I was the husband being like, “What are you watching?” I was getting such a good chuckle, but I was so confused. I was like, “Am I supposed to laugh at this? Is this supposed to be funny?” I have a dark sense of humor. I admit it.
I appreciate that.
That whole sense of humor in what you found is self-therapeutic and so healing. When you're diagnosed with cancer or something, it wants to pull you down. You could be destroyed so easily if you don't have love and humor in your life. You have to have that support system. It’s a great coping mechanism you've found. It's very healing, therapeutic, and uplifting and what other people can look to when they're trying to cope. How do they cope with something? It’s great what you're doing. You look terrific.
"When you're diagnosed with cancer or something, it just wants to pull you down. You could be destroyed so easily if you don't have love, humor, and that support system in your life."
Every time I see you, you look better. It's working. Don't you love how, at the beginning of this interview, he talked about how he wanted to be a priest and a pilot? That's the smart way of being Father Larry because he is like, “If I'm a pilot and I'm a priest, that puts me that much closer to God.” That's what he's thinking.
He's got a cheat sheet or something. Did you Google this, Father?
We're all close to Him.
It's true. We are.
I love it. Father, would you have any final thoughts that you would like to share with anybody thinking about getting more involved with an Angel Flight organization?
We've talked about how fulfilling it is when you can use the gift of who you are that make a profound transformative difference in someone else's life. It really makes a profound difference in your own life. As much as we touch other people's lives, by doing so, they touch our lives. People feel that transformative aspect in their lives by getting involved. They’re so meaningful and profound.
By a simple act of kindness, driving someone in your car, flying someone in your plane, or volunteering to get the word out, you're increasing people's ability to get to lifesaving medical care and access that care that will bring them love, healing, and hope. I would encourage everyone to get involved in an Angel Flight organization.
Tim, you're up.
That was a tough one to follow. Is there anything you would tell somebody thinking about flying with an Angel Flight organization or even exploring the option?
There are so many people out there who have this fear of small aircraft, and that's okay. As we've talked about this earlier in the conversation, these pilots are so caring and nurturing. The safest way of traveling is by air. If someone's thinking about it or has heard about it, look at Father Larry. We all saw Jonathan before we started. The staff is there to help. They're there to answer questions. They're there to make part of this pain go away for you and ease that journey that much more.
That is exactly what Angel Flight does. It helps bridge that gap and makes things a little bit easier, a lot easier, and a 100 times easier as I'm coming up on mine than it has been in the past. My hat's off to all of you because the work that you guys do is phenomenal. Candy and I toot the Angel Flight horn every chance that we get.
Thank you, Tim.
Thank you both so much. This is our first time doing it with more than one guest. We really appreciate you sharing your stories and being here with us. We're happy to get the word out more about Angel Flight.
Thank you, Jess and Maddie, for inviting us. It's great to be partners.
We love working with you guys. Tim, we're excited to have you with us as well.
Thank you so much. Thanks for this opportunity. I really appreciate it.
Thank you. God bless you.
That was so nice. I am surprised it went so well. I get nervous having multiple people that everybody's going to talk over one another, but it feels very nice.
I know, especially because I feel like sometimes, even we get excited and talk over each other. Our telepathy breaks.
That was fun. I would love to go see Tim's comedy in person. I feel like we need to make a field trip.
I support that idea, especially because the last time I was in New England and I went to see Larry, I brought him chocolate chip cookies and the whole Northeast office. They're the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever had, so we should go back to that place, too.
We hope you enjoyed this.
We’ll see you soon.