Cute Kid- Flight Home- Jan 2016

Taking Angelina and Pablo home to South Dakota six days following his heart surgery at UM Hospital. He was born with his heart on the right side of his chest (dextrocardia) and his aorta is not growing or functioning properly (coarctation of the aorta).  He had surgery right after birth to repair the aorta and this was his second surgery.  He'll need another in about 3 years.  Surgery went well and he was in no discomfort. We flew him to Aurora, IL to link up with 2d leg of their 3 leg flight. But weather had deteriorated to the west and they ended up spending the night at the home of the next pilot and he got them a ticket on SWA to Omaha where her husband picked them up. Really cute kid- nice folks!

Getting ready to head home. Blanket provided by Project Linus.

Getting ready to head home. Blanket provided by Project Linus.

About to depart from Livingston County Airport

About to depart from Livingston County Airport

En route to Aurora Airport, Chicago. Mostly in clouds or haze with 30+ knot headwind.  Just after departure, North of Jackson, MI

En route to Aurora Airport, Chicago. Mostly in clouds or haze with 30+ knot headwind.  Just after departure, North of Jackson, MI

Heading west, along south shoreline, Lake Michigan.

Heading west, along south shoreline, Lake Michigan.

Biding their time at Aurora as they awaited decision by next pilot whether they could make it home. 

Biding their time at Aurora as they awaited decision by next pilot whether they could make it home. 

Weather had deteriorated to the west so they remained in Chicago overnight.   

 

 

 

Dick's First Flight

Fifty years ago today, Sep 9, 1964, I took my first flight lesson!  Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  I flew in a PA18, N6482D.  It was an army plane used for surveillance- sort of like a Piper Cub, only with a 125 hp engine. Several had been donated by the army to the army flying club.  Yes, I was in the army at that time.  That plane no longer exists.  The N number is now assigned to a different plane.

The original Piper Cub had a 65 hp engine (I think, but not sure) and the Super Cub came out with 95HP.  So the 125 hp engine on the PA18's we had at Fort Sill made them pretty peppy.  Flying solo I could get off the ground in about 400 ft and land in less than that.  Fun to fly, but noisy and we didn't have noise canceling headsets back then.  Also, no starter so we hand-propped it to start.  If alone we'd leave the tail tied so we could start and not risk the plane escaping us before we could get around the strut and into the cockpit.  

This is about what it looked like.  Fuselage and wings are fabric covering over a metal frame.

This is about what it looked like.  Fuselage and wings are fabric covering over a metal frame.

From Toledo with Love

Lauren and her mom getting ready for their flight home from Toledo

Lauren and her mom getting ready for their flight home from Toledo

Seventeen year old Lauren has been suffering from a condition called Arterial Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome since the age of 9. The condition went misdiagnosed until recently, resulting in pain and deterioration of the nerves and muscles in her right arm. Luckily, a specialist in Ohio has been able to address her condition and she has undergone surgery and begun therapy to treat the residual nerve damage. Due to Lauren’s limited mobility and constant pain, commercial flights would be difficult for her physically and the cost to secure frequent flights from their home outside of Richmond, VA, for both her mother and her, often on short notice, is prohibitively expensive.  In order to provide Lauren and her family with some much needed support, Kids Wings links with other Angel Flight pilots in Pittsburg, PA and we fly them on the western leg of their route between Richmond and Toledo.

Lauren and her mom in back. Kelsey (copilot) and Dick in front

Lauren and her mom in back. Kelsey (copilot) and Dick in front

Update 2016: Lauren is still undergoing treatment in Toledo.  We flew Lauren and her mom twice in February, 2016.

A Flight Home

Dick Lawrence with Amelia

Dick Lawrence with Amelia

Amelia was one of the nicest people I’ve flown.  Despite her medical situation- cannot eat or drink anything and manages her own life support system of two tubes- one into her belly and the other threads through a vein and into her heart.   She has a small pump in a backpack that she innocuously will reach down and adjust once in awhile.  Because she cannot eat she has to carry her nourishment with her and that was done on this trip with two ice chests and a couple of plastic boxes containing her nourishment and several meds.  Along with her father, two duffel bags  and her wheelchair we were fully loaded.

Amelia is very cheerful, enthusiastic and optimistic, as is her father, Andrew.  She sat in front and both of them were interested in flying the plane.  Navigation, etc.  She helped with the takeoff, retracting the landing gear after takeoff and extending it before landing,  and also operating the transponder.  Co-pilot stuff.

Her mom was at the Butler County Airport when we arrived and took photos, below.

Amelia's flight home.  Flight originated in Milwaukee, WI, linking at Livingston County Airport, Howell, Michigan.

We did the leg from Livingston County Airport to Butler, PA.

We flew from Howell, MI (near Lansing), along the south shore of Lake Erie to Butler, PA (north of Pittsburgh).  The flight time was 1:53.

We flew from Howell, MI (near Lansing), along the south shore of Lake Erie to Butler, PA (north of Pittsburgh).  The flight time was 1:53.

Transplant Patient Flight

Katrina and Kaetrel

Katrina and Kaetrel

On Saturday afternoon, we received a call for a transplant patient flight.  We took Katrina and her 12 year old daughter Katrael, who was in need of a double lung transplant, from Detroit City Airport (DET) to Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Airport (AGC).  They wanted them at AGC by 6 p.m.  We told the mission coordinator it would be tight but We’d do the best we could.

Flying with a “lifeguard” (air ambulance) call sign we were airborne from DET at 4:40 and landed AGC at 6:07.  This was good time as the actual surgery wasn’t expected to start until 11 p.m.  They needed her at the hospital about 4 hours prior for prepping.

I spoke with Katrina the next day.  She was most appreciative of our help getting them there.  They were both nervous but both enjoyed the flight. Katrina told me that Katrael was prepped and at about 8:30 p.m. was ready to go into surgery when the transplant surgeon came out and told them that unfortunately the organs were not viable and Katrael would be unlikely to survive with that transplant.  Her mom said they were a bit upset, and the doctor was obviously feeling very badly about this situation.  Katrael looked at the doctor and said, “It’s o.k., it’s o.k.”.  He then gave her a hug. Quite a touching scene.  So, they headed home and are now awaiting another call.  Her dad had driven there and arrived at 8:30 p.m. so that was their transportation home.  They arrived home at 2:30 Sunday morning

Katrael is a really sweet and sharp girl.  She is 12, but has the maturity of a sixteen year old.  She had lots of questions while we were flying and took over my iPad (which has the flight charts) for awhile.  She’s been through seven previous surgeries but none like the double lung transplant (which will be a10 hour procedure).  She is on oxygen 24/7 and has a pretty high flow rate.  The small cylinder (same size as the one in my plane which will last me about 20 hours) lasts her about two hours.  They brought four cylinders with them and her mom changed them when needed.

We are all anxiously awaiting her next “match” and hope that happens soon and she makes it to Pittsburgh on time and the surgery goes well!

Flight Track

Flight Track

Flight for Blind Infant

Today we did a flight for a blind infant returning home from Troy, Michigan to Denver (three leg flight). She was born about 3 months premature and blind due to detached retinas, “retinopathy of prematurity”, or ROP. Dr. Trese is a world-renowned ophthalmologist at Beaumont Hospital specializing in treating ROP. This infant was a few months old and had been at Beaumont for a month where they did surgery on her left eye. She also has a lung problem so is always on oxygen.

I met them at the Troy Airport, near Beaumont Hospital in the Detroit area. The mother explained that they were very anxious about finding a way home from Troy when they were released from the hospital as they were told that their baby could not travel on a commercial airliner. She was very relieved when she learned of the free flight she could get with volunteer pilots.
They had several oxygen cylinders along and the infant had a nasal cannula for oxygen. This only provides oxygen when she’s breathing through her nose. Mom and the infant sat in back and mom had an oxygen monitor and would adjust the flow to keep her oxygen level above 85%. I flew at 6,000′ and would have descended if they couldn’t maintain an adequate oxygen level. This was a young couple- quite nice and easy-going. They were fun to fly despite the concern and attention that had to be paid to the infant. Her oxygen was bouncing between 85 and 95% and I suggested doing something to get her to breathe through her nose, so mom covered her mouth for a while. That helped. Then she gave her a pacifier and that also helped. An approaching weather system from the southwest was south of our route to Champaign, IL. (CMI). It had no effect on our flight. Our flight time was two hours and the flight was smooth and uneventful.
Leg two was from CMI to LNK (Lincoln, NE) in a PA46/310 (Piper Malibu- turbocharged, pressurized). This leg was about 2.5 hours and was also uneventful. To save time between flights the leg 2 pilot made them some lunch to eat in the plane.
Third leg was in a Cessna 205. The pilot flew at 9,000′ and they had no problem maintaining her oxygen level. At one point air traffic control (ATC) instructed them to climb to 11,000’. The pilot responded that he was unable to do that because he had an infant on oxygen on board. ATC rescinded that instruction so he was able to maintain 9000’. They did have to contend with weather and the flight was a bit bumpy at times. Due to strong headwinds the flight time was a little over three hours. Some adverse weather- rain, snow, ice- but the pilot is from the Denver area and is experienced in this type of weather and knew how to avoid hazardous flight conditions.
Total flight time for the folks was 10 hours, including stops. We departed Troy at 9:40 a.m. EST and they landed at Centennial Airport in Denver at 5:30 p.m. MST. They arrived in Denver safely, albeit a bit tired from the all day flights.

Triple Transplant for an Infant

Getting ready to go

Getting ready to go

An 8 month old infant needs to go from SE Michigan to Pittsburgh for a liver/pancreas/intestine transplant. He had never eaten in his life and was on a life support pack. Flights are planned in advance with pertinent information provided by the mission coordinator to the client and the pilot.

On July 24, 2008 I was contacted at 5:50 a.m. by the Angel Flight transplant coordinator and informed that the patient was “activated”, i.e. there was a match and he had 6 hours to be in the hospital from the initial contact time made by the hospital transplant coordinator, about 5 a.m. I checked the weather and was able to accept the flight, with a planned ETA at Allegheny County Airport (AGC) of 10:00 a.m. That worked for the coordinators.

This flight required more coordination than typical because the infant was with a foster mom, but the biological mom had to go and that meant that the social worker would have to get her to the plane.  So, we had people coming from three homes in two locations, Flint and South Lyon, MI, meeting at my local airport.  Everyone was at the airport by 7:50 a.m.

As I loaded him into the plane he was wide-eyed and looking mostly straight ahead with big round eyes. His color was not good, but he was not in any apparent discomfort.  My wife had helped get the plane ready and helped get us loaded and the hangar open.  As we departed a few of the folks seemed to have a tear in their eye. Perhaps a tear of joy because he was finally going to be helped, but maybe a bit of sadness due to the uncertainty associated with a triple transplant.

We departed at 8:10 using a lifeguard (air ambulance) call sign.  My requested altitude and routing was approved by air traffic control (ATC) and we flew to, and then along the south shore of Lake Erie and then to Pittsburgh, above the clouds and with a nice tailwind, arriving at AGC at 9:42 a.m.  Cleveland Center asked if they could help and I asked them to phone the Angel Flight coordinator and let her know of our ETA, which they did. She was coordinating our arrival with the hospital transplant coordinator.  An ambulance arrived a few minutes after we landed and took the mom and infant to the hospital. The transplants went well and the infant was doing well when I checked in September, 2008.

A Compassion Flight

April 25, 2006 was a stormy April day with a frontal system from Michigan to New York. One pilot had cancelled the previous day and I was asked by Angel Flight if I could help Mary and her thirteen-year-old daughter, Kathryn, return home from Saginaw, MI to West Barnett, VT. I would do the first leg, meeting them at the Midland-Bay City- Saginaw Airport, “MBS”, taking them to Niagara Falls International airport and Jeff Gleason, an Angel Flight pilot based in Rochester, NY would do the second leg to Burlington, VT, the closest airport to their home, but still an hour drive for them from Burlington. I have a NEXRAD weather downlink in my plane which would help with weather avoidance. My weather briefing the morning of the flight indicated I should wait a few hours for the weather to improve so I could get through the tail end of the frontal system and into MBS. The weather caused by the frontal system would be south of our flight path from Saginaw, MI across the south end of Lake Huron, then across Ontario, Canada to Niagara Falls airport. We would fly at 9,000 feet which would be above any residual weather related to the frontal system to our south. I would need to fly through the tail end of the frontal system, but that would not be a problem- I don’t mind flying in somewhat rough weather but avoid it with Angel Flight clients on board.

I do mostly medical flights and not too many strictly for compassion, but Mary and Kathryn needed to get home to Vermont after visiting Mary’s terminally ill father in Saginaw. Driving would have been two days each way for them and her daughter would have missed a lot of school. Also, this route would have taken a long time to drive. This helped justify the need for a “compassion flight” in my mind. On most of my flights I find that I learn something about people and their situations. Most are in some type of compelling circumstance which requires an effort on their part to resolve. It is both time consuming and emotionally difficult for many of our clients. On this mission I learned that a compassion flight can be every bit as important to the person and rewarding to the pilot as any other.

Mary’s father was terminally ill and living at home with his wife and with VA assistance in Saginaw, MI. When Mary was preparing to go to the airport to meet me for her flight home her mom was going to drive her daughter and her, and the VA was to send someone to their home to watch her father for the hour or so that her mom would be gone. For whatever reason there was no VA help when they needed to leave home and they loaded her dad into the car and the four of them drove to MBS. Realizing that when we departed her mom would be left with her dad in the car and no way to get him back into the house alone, Mary called 911 to apprise them of the situation and ask for their help. They agreed to either be there or make sure the VA had someone there. This effort took several minutes and we were already getting a little late as we had delayed the flight a few hours due to weather and had arrangements to meet a linking flight and it was getting late in the day. So her call carried the urgency of the need and I later learned that her mom did have help when she got back home.

Because it was a stormy day the MBS general aviation terminal was empty except for two employees. So, there were five of us inside the MBS terminal building- Mary, Kathryn, me, and two ladies behind the counter. With her mom and dad in the car just outside the door Mary was talking to them and came back in to invite me to go out and meet them. While inside alone with Kathryn I was talking to her to help her emotionally as she was realizing that it was unlikely she’d see her grandfather alive again. She was sitting in a chair with her head down, softly sobbing, alone, as I left to meet her grandfather. As I was leaving one of the ladies walked around the counter and went to Kathryn.

A few minutes later Mary and I went back inside and one of the ladies was kneeling in front of Kathryn, hugging and comforting her. The other had gone for a box of Kleenex that she gave to Kathryn to take with her. This was a very touching situation. The compassion of the two people from behind the counter was needed and appreciated. This exemplifies what compassion flights are all about. It isn’t just pilots, it is many people who are less directly involved but every bit as important, from the mission coordinators, to the air traffic controllers who help with our routings, to the fixed base operators who provide for compassionate assistance and often fuel discounts.

We got into my plane and as we were taxiing out and I was waiting for my flight clearance the FBO folks opened the gate so that her mom could drive the car where they could watch us depart. When I saw this I taxied towards the car slowly, stopped for a short time facing the car so they could wave goodbye. I remained there until I got my clearance. Then we went to the departure end of the runway and left, with Mary and Kathryn giving one final wave goodbye. The box of Kleenex got quite a bit of use! The linking pilot was based in Rochester, NY and to provide better coordination I agreed to take them there instead of Niagara Falls. The two-hour flight was smooth and the leg two pilot was waiting in Rochester when we arrived and got them to Burlington as planned.

People ask why we do what we do for people who live so far away from us, often in another state. Sometimes the people are not our close neighbors, as it was in the above story. But they had a need and we helped them meet their need. Similarly, people from this area traveling a long distance are helped by other pilots in other states. Reciprocal volunteerism! It works out pretty well! And, quite often a compassion flight is every bit as meaningful and worthwhile as a medical flight. It sure was in this case!