When we look at the sleek outlines of the latest Cessna Citation Latitude, Pilatus PC-24 or Gulfstream G600, we see the potential for performance, agility, and the speed that gets us to a destination safely and in style. What a cancer patient sees—looking at that same airstair door— is entirely different. Therein lies a protected cocoon, a nurturing shell in which an immunocompromised soul can fly to treatment without worry.
Using these amazing tools we know as pilots day in and day out, we may not fully comprehend how life-transforming their capabilities can be—save for those angels among us who fly urgent medical transport and volunteer their time and abilities to do so.
Hope, Faith, Answered Prayers
Mark Pestal—a Denver-based attorney and commercial pilot—is one of those pilots. Pestal founded AeroAngel, based at Centennial Airport (KAPA) in Colorado, and he donates much of his time and resources toward the organization. Since January 2010, the AeroAngel mission has been able to connect sick children with the wings to access distant medical care. With more than $2 million worth of in-kind or monetary donations in total, AeroAngel has helped more than 200 children receive critical care to date.
In the first four months of 2019, AeroAngel tallied more flights than it had in 2018—but a lot has changed since this year began. The mission remains critical, however, so Pestal and the organization’s volunteer pilots have worked to find a way to carry on flying through the challenging first half of 2020.
Brent Bythewood, one patient’s father, relates the urgency underlying the missions: “I was tasked back in May with trying to figure out how to get my critically ill daughter, Emily, from Nashville [Tennessee] to Boston for an extremely complex open-heart surgery. My options were: putting her in a car for an 18-hour drive or…well, because of COVID-19, there weren’t any other feasible options.”
“The idea of the organization is to transport extremely sick kids to the lifesaving procedures or the best doctors for their diagnosis,” Bythewood says. “[Pastel] does this by using [private] jets rather than smaller lightweight planes [because of] mileage and weight constraints.” This focus on jets, crewed by volunteer professional pilots, stands out and allows for a level of care needed by those very sick children facing severe chronic illnesses. It also makes long distances go by more quickly and comfortably than could be possible on the airlines or, conversely, on lighter GA aircraft.
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