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Distance can be a major barrier to accessing quality healthcare in a timely manner. For patients, access to air transportation can make all the difference in getting the treatment they need. However, flights can be expensive, and putting off medical care because of costs can put you or your loved ones at risk. That's where Angel Flight East comes in.

Welcome to Take Off Talk with Angel Flight East, a nonprofit dedicated to facilitating free air transportation for children and adults with medical conditions who need treatment far from home. Our organization covers a 14 state footprint from Virginia to Ohio to Maine and for further distances, we partner with other public benefit flying organizations.  No matter how many times you need to get to your medical treatment or see a loved one in need, we are here to help. Unfortunately, few people know about free services like ours, and thus cannot use them when needed. We don't know how many people forgo medical care because they don't have accessible transportation, and that's what this podcast is here to change.

Lifting Spirits And Soaring Skies With Volunteer Pilot Luis Quinones

Take Off Talk with Angel Flight East | Pilot Luis Quinones | Volunteer Pilot

Ready to soar beyond the clouds? In this episode, Maddy Beck and Jess Ames welcome Volunteer Pilot Luis Quinones, an aviator with a heartwarming story and a love for the skies. With nearly a decade of flying under his belt, Luis shares his unique journey from helicopter beginnings to his current adventures in his upgraded Mooney M20J. But it's not just about the flying; it's about the lives he touches through his volunteer work with Angel Flight East. From the poignant stories of those he's flown to the personal trials that shaped his resilience—including his kidney transplant story—Luis exemplifies the spirit of giving and adventure. This episode is sure to inspire and uplift. Tune in for laughs, lessons, and a little bit of turbulence!

 

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Watch the episode here

 

Listen to the podcast here

 

In this episode, we have Pilot Luis with us.

How are you? How's everybody doing?

We are good. We're excited to have you with us. Do you want to tell our audience a little bit about your pilot background?

It's great to be here. Thank you for having me. I've been a pilot since 2013. I started in helicopters. I haven't done it in a while, I used to fly Robinson 22s and 44s. I was part owner of one, which was pretty cool, but it gets expensive. Then I got a plane at the same time. The plane was more practical. I love flying the helicopter, but I got a Mooney. My first one was the 1976 Mooney M20C. Then I realized that I had to get some upgrades on it. I decided to sell it, and then I ended up buying another one. That's the one I currently have. It is an M20J, 1987 model. I've done a bunch of upgrades with it. I have over 1,000 hours at this point. I’m IFR-rated. I'm a private pilot and I'm working on my commercial right now.

You're busy.

 

Take Off Talk with Angel Flight East | Luis Quinones | Volunteer Pilot

 

I know. It's fun.

How did you start flying with Angel Flight East and how'd you hear about us?

Volunteering At Angel Flight East

The first time I heard of Angel Flight was when I was learning to fly in Culpeper, Virginia. There was a gentleman there, his name was JJ. He passed away, he was an Angel Flight pilot, a captain. I heard about it in passing. When I get my license, I would like to see if I can help. Somebody helped me before in a big way, so I wanted to do something to help other people. And then I heard about it, that was part of my motivation to get the IFR rating. I wanted to have it, but I also was motivated to do it quickly so I could start flying for you guys.

We love being goal-setters for people.

When you're not flying for Angel Flight, what do you find yourself doing?

Days Off From Volunteering

When I'm not flying, I go to the gym. I'm a kidney transplant survivor. We can talk a little bit about that. I go to the gym. I started going pretty regularly at the end of 2016. It's helped me. I started doing it more for the mind than for the body, but I like the effect that it gets on. I don't know if you guys have been on vacation ever, but when you're on vacation, you are relaxed. But if you are in a city and walking, and then you're feeling good, I don't know what it is, and I started to see that over time.

 

Take Off Talk with Angel Flight East | Luis Quinones | Volunteer Pilot

Volunteer Pilot: When I'm not flying, I go to the gym.

 

I was like, “I'm going to give it a shot.” I do that. That's a long answer to that. The other thing I do is I like to hang out with friends. I have a lot of friends. I hang out with my girlfriend. I like to go on vacations. I use the plane to go on a lot of vacations, and then I work for a company called Lumos, which I'm wearing the shirt now. I worked in a cybersecurity company, I've been in the market for five years. I run channels for North America. That's a little bit about me.

Since you are an avid gym goer, do you have a Peloton?

I don't.

I was excited. I was like, “Is it another Peloton enthusiast?’” because this could go on for a long time.

When I was in the pandemic, my girlfriend found a channel called NourishMoveLove on YouTube, then we started using that because my gym was closed. We started buying weight. I have like a bunch of weights now that I never thought I wanted to spend the money on, but now I have a bunch. That's how we started doing that. I've never had a Peloton, but my friends who have them love them.

If you get one, let me know.

I went back to the gym because I have a friend who's my best friend. Her name is Amanda. She and I met at the gym, and she said, “Come on. I need you back. I need you back.” She would joke that I was her gym boyfriend. She convinced me to go back in September. I was going through a hard time. I had a person at work that wasn't great. Luckily, the person was gone now, but it was bringing me down. She was like, “You should come and hang with people.” I joined the gym, and the next week, he was out of the company.

It’s perfect timing.

I stayed. I enjoyed engaging with people. I usually take classes. I don't do it on my own.

That's more my speed.

That's what I like. There are people of all kinds of different levels there. I made a lot of friends because of that, like nice people that I've never met.

Kidney Transplant Journey

Can you tell us a little bit about your kidney transplant journey? I know that we don't do actual flights to get the kidney, but we do work with a lot of people who have received or are going to things like that.

If you ever have anybody in that situation, I'll be happy to talk to them. I went through the gamut of all kinds of fun times with that. It started in 2010, my feet got swollen. I was feeling okay. I never realized that I had any problem when my blood pressure was high. They diagnosed that my kidney was going into failure. Nobody in my family has had that. I won the lottery there. If you have a kidney, cancer, or something, it's very likely that somebody else in your family will develop it. That’s how it started, and then I started doing dialysis.

About two years into dialysis, I was like, “I always wanted to fly.” My dad worked as an aviation mechanic for many years. He was in the helicopters. He started to fly. While going through dialysis, I didn't stop. I was still traveling. I had a machine. I would take it with me. In 2014, I went to a work dinner. While we waited for my manager, I was very thankful that he was late. His name is Tom Harre. Thanks, Tom, for being late, and another good friend, Adam, who was his manager. I was the one who put me in that position maybe a year before. I met a lady called Sue. She asked me, “How are you doing?” I'm always joking. I said, “Other than needing a kidney, I'm doing great.” She started asking me all kinds of questions. She said, “I'll donate to you.” She said that right there. I was like, “Yeah, whatever,” in my head. People say, “Let’s get together, Jessica, we're going to go on,” and you never heard back from them.

We're those people. I'll throw us right under the bus, especially being a Philadelphian, I'm always like, “I'll call you back,” and you may hear from me next week. We know those people, but please continue.

You know what I mean. You see it in some on-text chats and people saying, “Let's get together.” Unless I get involved, they don't get together, especially when it comes to my classmates from high school. Her BMI was a little high, but she did all the testing. This was a couple of months later. She had to lose weight to get there and change her diet a little bit. I had like a bunch of infections at the end. The operation was supposed to happen in December 2014,  but I got an infection. Then it was supposed to be January 2015, but it didn't happen because there was some other thing that I needed to address. It was going to be in February and then even in March.

It was canceled three times, and she still held up. She was on it. Anybody else would've been like, “Maybe this is not a good idea.” Her name is Sue Zel. She's still my friend. I use the plane. She lives in Richmond. We worked together at a company called Cisco. That's how I met her. That's when I met her. We keep in touch. She's been to see my parents. My parents have met her, and she's doing fine. I used to plan to go see her. I saw her in Richmond. It's about a 45-minute flight from here, to give you guys an idea. 195 is a very treacherous flight.

No, thank you. We'll take a pass on that and fly any day. That's an amazing story. The fact that you're still connected is incredible.

“New kidney, new me. Let's start flying. Why not?”

It's weird because after I got the transplant, I'm more observant. I'll notice fashion stuff. I don't know if female kidneys changed me in some way.

Women always rule the world, even our kidneys.

 

Take Off Talk with Angel Flight East | Luis Quinones | Volunteer Pilot

 

I'll notice stuff like, “Your eyes go with that shirt,” or whatever it is. It's stuff that I never noticed before. I don't know.

Welcome to the good side. In all of the flights that you've done, what is one that stands out to you the most?

Memorable Flights

I flew with Brian Jackson. I don't know if he's still surviving or not. He had pancreatic cancer, but I flew with him a couple of times. I enjoyed his company. He was a very nice gentleman. That one I liked because I flew with him a couple of times, so I got to know him a little bit. His wife gave me this nice card, like a thank you card. I have it somewhere out. I don't know where it is right now. I think I have a picture of it. It was very nice that they did that. I wasn't expecting that. The other one that I did, I can't remember the name of the gentleman, but I had to pick him up in West Virginia and fly to Cleveland.

As we were about to land, we started to get some ice under my wings. I told him, “Don't worry. As soon as we got out of the clouds, it's going to be warmer and it'll be fine.” It was cool to land there because you are right downtown Cleveland. I'm used to going to the little airports out there, but this was interesting because, I don't know if you've been to that airport, but it's in downtown Cleveland, and the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame is just a few blocks away. The football stadium is a few blocks away. There's nothing else. I even told my girlfriend, “We should go to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. I've been,” but she's like, “I don't want to waste my time at a museum.”

We love her already. We're not museum people either.

She likes the outdoors.

We don't like that either though.

What do we like? We like breweries or wineries. We're pretty simple.

We'll go to the pool. That counts as outdoors.

Do you fly for any other organizations besides Angel Flight?

I used to fly a lot for Pilots N Paws before. I did a bunch of flights, but since I got this job at Cisco, it's sometimes a little easier to get away. I have a little more responsibility. It's harder to do it. I haven't flown as much as I would like to. My last flight was in April. I flew a lady to your airport.

You mean Mya.

She was great. She's amazing. The one thing that impressed me about that girl is that for her age, I thought she was older by the way she spoke and carried herself. I have my experience. She had her experience, you learn to appreciate life more. It changes you. If I can help somebody else, I'll be happy to do it. Even if it is a one-hour flight, which to me is nothing. You're dealing with cancer. You're dealing with some other thing and whatever I can do. These days, I try to have as much fun as I can. I try to go to brewers, wineries, and stuff like that when I'm not flying, go on vacation, and take it easy.

 

“Sometimes these experiences make you appreciate life more. It changes you.”

 

If there's something to do at home, if it's not like a simple thing, I'd rather hire somebody because a lot of people don't realize this until they go to an event, time is a lot more precious than money. This might sound crazy, but it's nuts. It's better to spend the money and pay somebody to do it. In this room, I had a guy paint and they did a bunch of stuff. I could have painted it, but it's not beneath me. It's more like I have all the things I want to do. I already did all this stuff a long time ago. I want to enjoy life.

 

Take Off Talk with Angel Flight East | Luis Quinones | Volunteer Pilot

Volunteer Pilot: I want to enjoy life.

 

We interviewed Mya for our show, and she described cancer as not being that bad. We're like, “Can you repeat that? What did you say? Cancer wasn't that bad?” She said it shaped who she was as a person. I agree. She's super mature, and you would hear her speak and be like, “She's not sixteen, she's way older,” but her story is amazing.

When that happens to you, I feel like two big things are happening. I was a young kid. I started traveling in South America to work for another company I worked for. I mean, I was 24 or 25. Back then, I thought I had different ideas of what I saw movies like Clear and Present Danger. You get, “Oh my God.” I had such great experiences. That shaped a big part of my life. It changed my mindset and my brain. I don't know how to explain it. The other part was the kidney thing because it made me thankful for what I had and to enjoy it. You can’t take the money or anything like that. You have to be responsible. I'm not advocating to go and go crazy, but I think that you have to have a good balance. You learn a lot. It's nuts, but you do.

Helping Others

What is one final thought that you would want to leave our readers with? Is it anybody who's thinking about becoming a pilot or somebody who already is a pilot, but not a pilot with us or any other Angel Flight organization?

It's a great experience to help other people. They love flying, to begin with. You get to do something you love. You're going to fly anywhere. Instead of going and getting a burger for $100 or whatever it is, it's better to help somebody and get to know somebody. Instead of flying on your own because your family doesn't want to fly with you, I know out of my friends that have planes and their wives don't want to fly with them or their kids. At least you get to fly with interesting people, somebody like Mya, Brian, or a few of the other people that I’ve met over the years. It's a good experience.

 

Take Off Talk with Angel Flight East | Luis Quinones | Volunteer Pilot

 

I remember another flight when I flew this family from… I can't remember which airport, I was flying from West Virginia or back this way, I think towards Gaithersburg, and there was a thunderstorm. We had to deviate to another airport. I can't remember the name of it, but it has a Mexican restaurant. We went in there and I hung out with them and we had Mexican food and waited for the thunderstorms to pass. I got to know them a little bit better. Something always happens that's unexpected and it is fun. It's a good thing that you're doing something fun and helping other people.

 

Take Off Talk with Angel Flight East | Luis Quinones | Volunteer Pilot

Volunteer Pilot: Volunteering at Angel Flight is a good thing that you're doing. It's something fun and helps other people.

 

Do the best things.

I had no idea about that Mexican story either.

It's somewhere in West Virginia, near the border.

It sounds like it's Lewisburg. LEW.

Lewisburg.

We will have to make a field trip there because we love West Virginia and we love Mexican food, especially margaritas.

Have somebody else fly you there. Just make sure you're not too intoxicated because you're not supposed to fly if you're intoxicated. I mean the other people. You can get to the limit there, have a Diet Coke, and get on the plane, and you're back.

You do not have to sell us on that idea anymore.

I think this is our best one yet.

It was good. I recommend it. I would do it. I have a question for you guys. Have you guys gone on any flights or do you like to fly? How do you guys get involved in this?

I had my first Angel flight. I got my 5th or 6th anniversary of going on my first Angel flight. To get involved with the organization, I was recruited by our executive director. She was friends with my mom and was like, “I know Maddy's personality and I know where Maddy's personality needs to be, and it's right here.” Here I am a few years later. I was a senior in college at the time, but now I am in my last year of grad school and living the dream. That was how I first got started. My first flight with a patient was from Wingfield down to Norfolk, ORF, to pick up Geraldine. She was a breast cancer patient receiving care at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia. Wow.

We flew down, picked her up, brought her back up. You would've thought that she was going to go see her kids in another state or something, like not going to cancer treatment. She was the happiest woman you've ever met. I loved her so much. Unfortunately, she lost her battle during COVID-19, but she's still the bomb. We try to sneak on other flights as much as possible.

Whoever wants to take us will go.

That's good to know. I'm usually flying by myself most of the time. I had a friend, and her name was Don, but she moved back to Korea. She's a pilot too. We would fly together a lot on, “I have an infant, do you want to come?” There was one that I flew to and ended up in New Mexico in a Mexican restaurant. She was going to come with me. I thought it was two people, but there were three of them. I was like, “Don, you have to stay. I think I picked them up here. I can't remember where. It's been a while.

It's fun. I'm taking flying lessons. I hope to be an Angel Flight pilot one day, maybe in 2030, but hopefully before then.

We'll see if she meets the requirements.

I don't want to get an IFR rating. That's more studying. I'm trying to do as little studying as I can.

I was thinking of doing private. I did private in the helicopter. I never was thinking of IFR. With the plane, it was in the back of my mind, but then the Angel Flight was one of the motivating factors to do it. My friends were like, “You should do it. Your airplane means more travel and more opportunities to do things. 5 out of 7 days, you probably will be able to fly in a week. The weather is icing today, but tomorrow is great,” or whatever it is. That's been nice to be able to plan trips. I'm supposed to fly to Orlando and see my dad for Father's Day on Friday. Hopefully, the weather will be fine. It's fun. You should do it. You should finish it, especially if you go to the airport.

I used to drive 1 hour and 15 to 1 hour and 30 to do the helicopter training because the instructor that I was working with had his helicopter and he was only $200 bucks an hour. In this area, it was $350. I was like, “I'll drive.” I caught up with a lot of people on the phone. I made the most of the trip. I would call my dad. I would call my mom. I would call somebody that I hadn't talked to in like a year. Here at the airport, my airplane is twenty minutes away, so it's easy.

I was very determined to get it. It was good. It was good therapy while I was going through that stuff with the dialysis and the kidney. One of the things that a lot of people don't realize is with your kidneys when you lose them, I was on dialysis, but I didn't feel my brain was working great. I can have a conversation and everything, but in the helicopter, you have to coordinate things very smoothly, even more than the plane. Anybody can fly, but I would not let anybody fly the helicopter with me, especially one of those Robinson helicopters, because it's very square. If I give you the controls, we could end up dying in a moment. Coordinating the controls of the cyclic and the collective, I didn't get it until I got the kidney transplant, which is crazy.

Is It because you have part of a woman now?

Maybe that's what it is. Sue is very smart. That made a big difference too. The instructor would tell me, he is my friend now, “I feel like I'm taking your money because I wasn't making the progress that I thought you should be making.” I said, “This is better than going to see a psychiatrist or being at home watching Love and Redemption for the 50th time. It's always on TV. That was just me. That helped me.

You're the bomb, and now you are helping many people. Thank you so much for all that you do for our patience. We're excited for you to take on many more flights.

I'm excited. I'm hoping that my company's doing well. Hopefully, somebody will buy us, and I can retire youngish.

That would be amazing.

Then I can do more flights.

Thank you so much for sharing your story and your time.

Thank you. It’s a great meeting. I know Maddy, you're at Wings.

We both are. We're separated by a wall.

Are you in the same building right now?

Yeah.

It looks like you're in completely different places. I thought you were at your house and you were at your house.

Our personalities are very different.

We're like the same person.

We're going to ask me a question at the beginning that you guys were going to ask me the same question I felt at the beginning.

We have the same brain.

We share the same brain cells, at least.

A funny story for other pilots out there who are reading this. My dad was an aviation mechanic, and I'm from Puerto Rico originally. Back in the day, he and this guy would fly to Florida because they had some business there, he had to fix some planes. They had the Piper dealership in Puerto Rico back in the day. One time they were flying, and my dad was in the plane with the guy. This is back in the early late ‘60s and early ‘70s. He was a Piper Navajo, and they were flying when the guy said, “I'm bored. Why don't we go play chess?” because he knew my dad loved to play chess.

My dad said, “Who's going to fly the plane? The autopilot.” They went back to play chess, and my dad was playing with him. The guy beat him, and the plane was flying on its own with nobody in the front. This is back in the day, like how things work. My dad told me this story. I had never heard this story before, but I was like, “Oh my God.” It's nuts how things were back in the day.

That's terrifying.

Especially back then with the autopilot, like using VORs. There was an area where you didn't have to talk to anybody, or they were flying VFR. I don't know what they did, but that was like, “Let's play some chess. Let's go in the back.” Fun times.

On that note, everybody, we'll talk to you later.

It was great meeting you, in person. I'll be happy to fly with you guys at any time.

Thank you.

Thanks. Have a great day.

When Pilots share their medical journeys, I feel like we have no idea how much more tied to the mission they are.

Those little tidbits about having to land at a different airport and go to a Mexican restaurant, nobody ever tells us these things. These are the good stories we want to hear so we can talk about them.

Luis was like, “It went great. It was fine.”

Their mission comments are usually like a great family and we're like, “We want more. Tell us about these things that you've done.”

I wanted to open up a can of worms on that episode and say, “Let's take a poll. Who was a better coordinator, Maddy or David? I'll get in trouble for this.”

David will bully us for that, mainly because David's the only one who actively talks about our show anymore. I feel like recently we've had a lot of compliments directed at David. My ego could have used it if we were being honest.

I wanted to be like, “Bring back the compliments to us”, but we don't work with the patients in the pilot, I guess they can't compliment us on a whim, but if anyone's reading, you could email us all the great things that we do. We need it sometimes.

We need emotional help.

We're sensitive.

On that note, we're going to go eat our feelings because everybody else compliments David.

I'm keeping my comments to myself. Bye.

 

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