Giving Wings of Hope to Patients

Jeanine Chambers Angel Flight SoarsSpecial to the Philanthropy Journal

By Jeanine Chambers

What would you do if you or a family member needed lifesaving medical treatment but had no way to get there? Even if you have medical insurance, travel to a distant medical facility for a second opinion, evaluation or treatment is not a covered expense, leaving many patients scrambling for some sort of affordable transportation. Other patients may have the financial means to travel, but instead have medical conditions that have left them with compromised immune systems that prohibit public transportation. What happens to these patients?

AF logoThe solution for many patients facing this problem is Angel Flight Soars. Angel Flight Soars is a volunteer pilot organization dedicated to removing the obstacle of transportation for individuals in medical and financial need. No one should be unable to receive the care they need simply because they can’t find a way to get there. This is especially true for many patients in rural areas where healthcare facilities have cut back on services or even closed, leaving the nearest treatment center hundreds of miles away.

Brianna’s story is one just example of Angel Flight’s impact. Eleven years old and living in a small town in South Georgia, Brianna had already lost the sight in one eye when doctors referred her to the Emory Eye Clinic to save the remaining eye. There was just one problem – her family had no way to get her there. Fortunately for Brianna, a social worker knew about Angel Flight and Brianna is now able to get the treatment and surgery she needs. Angel Flight will be there for as long as she needs us.

Brianna on her way to Emory
Brianna on her way to Emory

Many of the patients served by Angel Flight have cancer or burns and require numerous trips for treatment, putting an additional burden on families already financially and emotionally stressed by an ongoing medical condition. “I don’t know what I would have done without Angel Flight!” is a comment frequently heard from patients and their family members.

Angel Flight also flies transplant patients (and donors) to all of the evaluations, pre-op and post-op appointments they need. And when “the call” for the gift of life comes in the middle of the night, as it did for seven-year-old liver transplant recipient Addison, an Angel Flight volunteer pilot is ready to take to the sky!

Angel Flight is the original volunteer pilot organization serving those who reside in, are traveling to or through the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. And luckily, they have Angels everywhere, or at least other pilot organizations to work with through the Air Care Alliance, if needs extend beyond this region.

Located at the DeKalb-Peachtree (PDK) Airport, the organization was formed in 1983 by Jim Shafer, a medical industry professional and private pilot, who recruited 15 pilot friends to join him in meeting this need in the community. Angel Flight is a non-profit, community service organization and is supported entirely by private and corporate donations. These contributions are used to cover the costs of mission coordination, pilot recruitment, education and community outreach (the most important, yet most challenging task).

In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Angel Flight was privileged to be a first responder and fly more than 450 relief missions transporting life sustaining supplies, medical equipment, and volunteer personnel into some of the hardest hit areas of the disaster. As importantly, they reunited dozens of Gulf Coast families. These missions were of critical and life-saving importance to those in the hurricane-ravaged zone. The National Aeronautic Association awarded Angel Flight the 2006 Outstanding Achievement in Advancement of Public Benefit Flying in recognition of their hurricane Katrina and Rita relief operations.

Angel Flight was also instrumental in the 9-11-01 relief efforts by transporting disaster relief workers, firefighters, mental health workers, Red Cross personnel and FBI agents to NY and DC when all commercial air traffic was grounded and received the “Outstanding Group Award’ from the Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter of Red Cross for their support during the 2004 Hurricane Relief Efforts.

William - Roy Thompson-Bone Marrow Transplant-NCThis year, Angel Flight is celebrating 33 years of service to the community. Missions have increased over 950% since the year 2000 and in that time frame, Angel Flight has coordinated almost 36,000 missions. In 2015, Angel Flight soared to an amazing 2,861 missions coordinated, impacting more than 8,869 patients and their family members. That’s about 8 missions coordinated per day, 7 days a week! 

Angel Flight transports patients of all ages, ethnicities and religions and all of the services are completely free for the patients and their families. The patients served are referred directly by healthcare providers and/or medical facilities, through outreach efforts in communities and by patients and families who have used.  Angel Flight also actively recruits volunteer pilots to get patients to lifesaving treatment, and facilitates the mission coordination process by bringing these two groups together.

“Our greatest challenge is getting the word out to the patients who need us,” says Executive Director Jeanine Chambers. “We invest a lot of time educating the medical community, specialty organizations, and the general population so that families in need will know that we are here to serve them. As more medical professionals and the community at large learn about Angel Flight’s service, we can reach more people who need transportation to distant medical treatments. Please tell your doctors, friends and civic groups about Angel Flight!”

Jeanine Chambers is the Executive Director of Angel Flight Soars. During her 17-year tenure, the organization has increased missions by over 950%.

Angel Flight Soars, Inc. is a public benefit aviation group serving the southeastern states of Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi. Services are available to any individual, medical agency or health care organization for medically stable and ambulatory patients traveling from, to or through its service area. 

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