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By Charles FelixSouth Florida Hospital News
Volunteer Pilot Organizations, VPO’s, have been around for more than 25 years, starting on the West Coast of the U.S. and have expanded and now link with over 100 non-profit organizations in a network called Air Care Alliance (www.aircareall.org). They all have one mission, to assist with “free” transportation for those who are ambulatory and need medical or humanitarian care. One of these groups based in South Florida is Vital Flight, consisting of a highly skilled and trained group of instrument rated pilots with many years of experience who volunteer their own time, their aircraft and all costs associated with the flight, including fuel, to remove transportation as an obstacle for those in need of humanitarian or medical care.
Recently, one of these flights involved a veteran, Lester, who signed up for a six week blind rehabilitation program in West Palm Beach, Florida. From the Fort Myers area, Lester was returning from his rehabilitation program and, at 90 years young, mentioned that he landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy in the infantry and marched to within 50 miles of Berlin. I personally was able to fly as a Mission Assistant with Vital Flight and experienced firsthand how professionally these pilots handle their passengers to ensure their safe travel.
“The flight was smooth and the handling by radar controllers on the ground and at the airports under a ‘Compassion Flight’ name provides a higher level of handling than the normal flight by an aircraft,” said Vital Flight’s Tom Powers. The veteran, Lester, really had a fond memory of the flight to and from his rehab program, even though he could only experience the sensations of flight due to his visual impairment.Vital Flight pilots can be called at the last minute, when an emergency or “special medical need” transport is required. An occasion occurred several weeks ago, when a call went out regarding a patient waiting for transplant surgery for over a year who heard that two donor lungs would become available that night.
With only a 4-5 hour window to get the patient to his appointed “double lung” transplant surgery, these Vital Flight pilots took action and safely shepherded the patient and his wife from Ft. Lauderdale to Tampa in the middle of the night. “Most of the time we never hear about the outcome of the surgery,” Tom Powers, Founder and Chairman of Vital Flight said. “But we heard after a few days that the surgery was a success.” That gives Vital Flight special pride that both its pilots, Allan Weltman and Tom Powers, were able to “save a life” that night.
Transporting patients and loved ones can be extremely satisfying for the pilot. This service is provided at no charge and is available to those of any age who are ambulatory and have financial need and a medical release. When longer flights are required out of state, transport is coordinated with other Air Care Alliance agencies, so that the passengers can be accommodated.
Vital Flight also actively tries to give back to the community. This ALL Volunteer organization recently flew over 150 special needs children and their families at a Special Kids Day in Boca Raton. The joy of flight and a day at the airport relieved families of the continuous care of their children and gave the kids a day to remember. There are plans already in the works for another Special Kids Day in early 2012.
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