Free Air Transportation Gets Patients to Vital Treatment
(ARA) - “They are angels in airplanes,” says Karon Kennerknect regarding the volunteer pilots who make the mission of AirLifeLine a reality for patients and their families. For nearly a quarter-century, AirLifeLine has worked to ensure that people are not denied access to medical care simply because they cannot afford the cost of travel. Last year alone, AirLifeLine’s 1,500 volunteer pilots donated free flights for nearly 9,500 passengers across the United States.
In addition to coordinating free air transportation for people with medical and financial need; AirLifeLine also coordinates free air transportation for precious cargo such as organs, blood, tissue and medical supplies; disaster-relief efforts in times of crisis; and other humanitarian needs.
Nearly 40 percent of the organization’s flights assist children and their families. Kennerknect and her 7-year-old daughter Tiffany have flown with AirLifeLine 33 times in the past two years. When she was five years old, Tiffany suffered acute renal failure after an E coli poisoning. She required immediate kidney dialysis to save her life, and was evaluated for a kidney transplant shortly thereafter. After waiting over a year, Tiffany received a kidney transplant in March 2002. She travels often from her home in Oneonta, N.Y. to Children’s Hospital in Boston for ongoing treatment.
For those who need to travel to receive medical care, ground transportation is often impractical and uncomfortable. Many people simply cannot endure multiple hours of travel by car, bus or train, and their treatment plans often require frequent trips far from their homes. Kennerknect first heard about AirLifeLine from the transplant coordinator at Children’s Hospital. “Before finding out about AirLifeLine, we were driving back and forth to the hospital -- a five-hour trip each way,” she says. In contrast, the plane ride from a small airport near their home takes just an hour. Tiffany and her mom are met in Boston by a volunteer driver from AirLifeLine who drops them at the hospital and brings them back to the airport.
While the service they provide is priceless, AirLifeLine’s volunteer pilots are a modest bunch who say they are simply doing something they love. “It is a good way to justify my hobby,” explains pilot John Campbell, who is one of the pilots who has flown the Kennerknect family to Boston. “This is the ultimate win/win situation,” he says. “I love to fly and need to fly to stay current, and I can use my piloting skills to help some people who really need these flights.”
Campbell, who has flown nearly 80 missions since joining AirLifeLine in July 2000, points out that many people with critical illnesses exhaust the limits of their health insurance quickly, and are then faced with large medical bills. “We can help these families save money on transportation, and since we often fly round trips in the same day, people also save money by not having to stay in a hotel.” Since 1978 AirLifeLine has served almost 70,000 passengers, who have saved more than $40 million in travel costs.
Pilots like Campbell donate their planes (in his case, a Piper Seneca twin-engine), time, landing fees and fuel to transport patients and their families. He says the ability to help people and the gratitude of those he flies make it a pleasure to work with AirLifeLine. Yet he doesn’t think of himself as a hero. He says simply that “it is important for those who can contribute time and money to do so.”
Kennerknect thinks the volunteers deserve more credit than they’re willing to give themselves. “The day we got the call that there was a kidney available for Tiffany, it was snowing. With the traffic delays, we never would have been able to reach Boston in time by car, but AirLifeLine got us there,” she says. “The pilots are willing to drop whatever they’re doing when they get a call to take a patient.”
AirLifeLine is supported entirely by donations from individuals, corporations and foundations. For every dollar contributed, AirLifeLine generates $6 in passenger services.
For more information on how AirLifeLine can help you or someone you know, or to volunteer, call (877) AIR-LIFE or visit the organization’s Web site at www.AirLifeLine.org.