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 ATC rescinded that instruction so he was able to maintain 9000’.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.