Angel Flight Program Ticket to Patient Reaching Doctors
August 31, 2012
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  • A short flight goes a long way in the lives of patients who connect with Angel Flight.

    San Angelo resident Josefa Clift’s medical needs recently brought her to David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport in Spring, Texas, by way of Lakeway pilot Russ Norwood’s Beechcraft Bonanza.

    Clift traveled to Houston to undergo cancer treatments at M.D. Anderson.

    “I am currently going to find out if my recent heart attack is linked with my treatments,” Clift said during the Aug. 8 journey. “I also want to talk options with my doctors. I am ready to try anything that’s going to help me.”

    Clift was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma 30 years ago and was first treated in California with little improvement. She then went to UCLA and Las Vegas for treatment, but both facilities eventually ran out of treatment plans to offer her. That’s when she made the move to San Angelo and learned of a doctor at M.D. Anderson in Houston.

    “There was not a doctor in San Angelo that treated T-cell lymphoma, but I had heard of a doctor in Houston that was supposed to be great and at the time I had a car so I drove there with no problem,” Clift said. “However, my car was stolen soon after that, and I had no way of getting to my treatment from then on out.”

    That is, until she found out about Angel Flight of America.

    Clift heard about Angel Flight from her social worker at M.D. Anderson, and they helped her initiate the process to begin coordinating flights with the program.

    “After my car was stolen, I was frantically trying to find a way to get myself back up to Houston,” she said. “Luckily, a social worker informed me of the program. It has been so incredible; I can barely put my gratitude into words. The pilots are wonderful, and they seek to your care and comfort every step of the way. The entire program is just fantastic.”

    Angel Flight does not require a passenger to meet financial guidelines or have a specific diagnosis to qualify for a flight. The group only asks that passengers have a compelling need before they ask for transportation.

    Pilots give patients a lift to and from medical facilities so that they may obtain the vital medical treatment they need.

    Norwood, whose father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007, has a personal connection to the cause that has motivated him to volunteer for about three years as a pilot.

    “Following the cancer experience with my dad, I began supporting M.D. Anderson financially through donations,” Norwood said. “When I heard about Angel Flight, I was immediately interested. Once I started doing missions, I found that it was so much more rewarding to actually donate my time and fly to take patients down there because you got to meet the patients that the dollars are impacting.”

    It’s free for patients, and pilots shoulder flight costs, which he says he doesn’t mind.

    Angel Flight assigns pilots by region and emails them patient requests twice a week. The nonprofit agency requires its pilots to have current private pilot certificates and valid medical certificates, as well as be current and proficient in whatever airplanes they fly.

    Norwood tries to provide a flight at least once a month.

    “Mixing your hobby with helping people out, I can’t think of a better way to volunteer my time,” he explained. “Being part of Angel Flight allows me to really enjoy flying. When I’m up there transporting a patient, I know I’m accomplishing something important, not just having fun.”

    The experience has introduced him to a variety of cases.

    “We see really everything you can imagine,” Norwood said. “The majority of the flights are to or from Houston’s Hobby Airport, and most of the patients have cancer and are being treated at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. However, patients with a variety of ailments being treated in places around the country can and do take part in the program. One of the longest flights I’ve ever flown was from Arkansas to Texas, for a man who had just had a liver transplant.”

    Norwood frequently checks up on his former riders. To him, it’s as simple as a phone call to see how treatments are going for these patients.

    “The people that we help, it’s always good to follow up with them every once in awhile when they haven’t shown up on anyone’s flight schedule in a few months,” Norwood said.

    “Sometimes, you find out that someone’s not flying any longer because they’re cured.”

    Clift wants the pilots to know that their remarkable efforts do not go unnoticed, and what they do gives patients like her the wings to recovery.

    “My experience with Angel Flight has been incredible,” Clift said. “My pilots always get me to my appointments on time while maintaining my comfort on the trip. One time, a pilot even shared his lunch with me. The thought of them giving up their time to do this, it just amazed me.”