A general aviation pilot from New York helped to launch a charitable organization that has connected more than 45,000 cancer patients with seats aboard corporate aircraft that carried them to life-saving treatments.
Priscilla “Pat” Blum and co-founder Jay Weinberg created the not-for-profit Corporate Angel Network in 1981. Blum was inducted into the Women in Aviation, International Pioneer Hall of Fame during WAI’s conference on March 7 in Dallas.
Blum came from a flying family—her brother, Robert, was a U.S. Navy pilot who served in World War II and was killed in action off the coast of Africa. Her sister, the late Betty Haas Pfister, was a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots.
“Twenty years later, after the war, I decided to take to the air,” she said. Blum and her husband, the late Roger Blum, took flying lessons after experiencing an excruciating traffic jam one summer. She became a private pilot in 1965 and completed an instrument rating in 1967. The Blums flew a Piper Comanche 250 that they kept at Westchester County Airport (HPN).
Blum was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1969 and underwent surgery. She recalled that her first words after the operation were, “When can I fly again?”
With an airplane based at Westchester County, Blum noticed numerous Learjets, Gulfstreams, and Challengers going in and out of the airport with one or two passengers on board.
“I’d often heard about the plight of cancer patients who couldn’t afford flights to life-saving treatments,” she said. She reached out to fellow cancer survivor Weinberg with a plan to ask corporations if they would consider helping cancer patients fly to a treatment center if the corporate airplane and the patient were headed to the same destination on the same day. Together with another Westchester County-based friend, Leonard Greene, they contacted hundreds of chief executive officers and also sought support from aviation organizations, including AOPA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and theNational Business Aviation Association.
“I talked aviation speak to the flight departments to assure them that their operations wouldn’t be interrupted,” Blum said.
The first patient was flown on Dec. 22, 1981. In the first year, CAN coordinated flights for 24 cancer patients. That figure has increased to more than 220 flights per month—about 3,000 per year—aboard aircraft owned by more than 500 volunteer corporations. There is no cost to the patient or the participating company, Blum said.
Patients who travel on CAN flights must be ambulatory and must be declared fit to fly by a physician. Each trip “provides hassle-free, comfortable travel with no long wait in an airport,” Blum said. Patients receive “the knowledge that strangers [are] offering help at a low point in their lives,” she said. “Having cancer is reason enough to find comfort and dignity.”