Dear Volunteer Pilots,
I so appreciate your willingness in flying me to my 2 doctor appointments at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, VA on July 11, 2017. There are very few lovely individuals who would extend their invitation to help a person-in-need to the extent you have for me. Your desire to help a total stranger is awesome to behold. Thank you for your kindness, your time and your generosity in sharing your day and airplane with me.
A car accident in 2002 left me disabled at 39 years old and unable to drive. It left me with a head injury and memory problems as welt as chronic and severe pain. I have had the difficult process of transitioning from a very capable person to one which must rely on others for some of the most basic of tasks; those that most people don’t realize their luxury of doing independently. Giving up driving was especially hard for me. It took away my impulsiveness and left me struggling with dependence on others.
My retired father, Thomas, devotedly assumed the position of being my “driver” whenever I needed to go to the local market or farther – to my physicians at the University of Virginia. When he passed away in August of 2016, I lost more than just a terrific, loving father. As for my mother, she is too old now and incapable of making long drives. Sometimes I see her memory fleeting.
There is one thing I want you to know – flying on that medical trip was so exciting for me! I cannot remember a time when going to the doctor was reflected with a smile on my face. Thank you for the time you took out of your day, away from your obligations, to fly me to Charlottesville, VA. Thank you for paying the expenses that were incurred to fly me, I realize it cost more than a simple tank of gasoline. If there is something that I may do in return to help you and your team, please call me.
My hand surgery on my right arm went well and I have just completed all my physical therapy sessions. I wanted to be able to type this letter so I could show both my “Angel Pilots” what their volunteering provided for me. I now have a right hand that equals the agility and strength of my left one, and the pain is gone. What a blessing to me! As for my neurology appointments, there will always be an on-going necessity for continual brain monitoring, so my visits to my doctors at UVA Hospital will continue.
This was the last chance I had before I was removed from a transplant list. I was unable to cover my transportation to a medical appointment in another state. My medical provider would only pay after I returned from my trip (they now refuse to cover my out of pocket expenses).
After some online searches, I found Mercy Medical Angels. I contacted Mercy Medical Angels and they gave me a flight to my medical appointment. The help of Mercy Medical Angels made it all possible. Thank you so much, Mercy Medical Angels! I will be donating back to them for the services they provide me and others because you never know you could need them someday (we all pray not). Thank you again!
For three chaotic, heartbreaking years, I watched my once-healthy daughter, Lillie, spiral downward into a mere shell of the vibrant, athletic, energetic person that she had always been. She was in sports, played the drums and piano, was a member of multiple school clubs, and was an active volunteer within our church. And she was a straight-A student with an impeccable memory, with aspirations to become a pediatric oncologist. I was so hopeful for her future, and so proud of my sweet, responsible girl. But everything changed a few months after she turned 15, during her sophomore year.
Lillie had surgery on her ankle after a volleyball injury in 2016 and immediately after that surgery, she began having seizures. The epilepsy diagnosis was a shock, because it does not run in the family. Once she began taking the prescribed medication, Lillie lost the boundless energy that she always had, her memory was greatly impacted, and she lost the privilege to drive. As a result of her extreme fatigue, she had to drop out of clubs and volleyball, and she stopped playing her instruments. She no longer volunteered at church, she rarely socialized outside of school, and her test scores plummeted. On top of all that, the medications were not working, but her seizures were intensifying. She began having them every single day, and experienced four different types of seizures. To this day, whenever I see my baby girl convulsing and unconscious, I cry. I don’t imagine I will ever get used to it.
In August of 2019, Lillie had her wisdom teeth pulled. Such a normal procedure that most of us have to endure at some point in our lives. She was cleared by her neurologist to have it done and with her best friend in tow, we arrived at the oral surgeon’s office. Her teeth were pulled without issue, but once they woke her up, the grand mal seizures began, one after another after another. She was transported to the hospital but they could not get the seizures to stop. That is when she developed a new type of seizure, called an absence seizure. She was lying in her bed in the emergency room, and suddenly she went stiff. Her eyes were huge and unfocused, and she was unresponsive. I thought she was dead. I will never forget that feeling in my chest when, for a brief moment, I thought my beautiful girl was gone. My son says he can still hear my screams in his head. Lillie was transported to a different hospital, and went into shock when they moved her. That is the day that she almost died, the day that epilepsy almost claimed such a genuinely good, kind person, and the day that I became determined to find expert care for Lillie. My search led me to Johns Hopkins, world-renowned for epilepsy and neurological care.
Unfortunately, I lost my job for calling in too many times when Lillie needed me. Living in the midwest, the expense of traveling to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore was impossible to afford. My son, Brady, a United States Marine and the best big brother in the world, reached out to Mercy Medical Angels. This wonderful organization made the trip possible, and Lillie was able to be seen at Johns Hopkins. The trip was a success! Though Lillie has to return for inpatient care, the ball is already rolling to change her treatment plan. When we left Baltimore, I saw a spring in my daughter’s step that I haven’t seen in a long time. She had hope again, and thanks to Mercy Medical Angels, Lillie’s giant smile reflected that hope.
From the depths of this mama’s soul, thank you to Mercy Medical Angels and to the donors whose generosity made our life changing trip possible! Though Lillie’s journey with epilepsy continues, we are no longer on a lonely darkened path. Our new path vividly shines with a team of doctors that are just as determined as I am to keep that radiant smile on Lillie’s face.
-Robyn, Lillie’s mother
I have a rare kidney disease called Loin Pain Hematuria Syndrome. It causes constant flank pain that will not be touched by any pain medication. The only “cure” for LPHS is a kidney auto transplant which is not performed in many places. I found out about UW-Health treating this disease through a Facebook support group. I had to travel to Madison, Wisconsin and stay there for 3+ weeks. Driving the 13 hours was not an option for me because it is too painful to ride in a vehicle.
Financially I couldn’t afford to fly then I found out about Mercy Medical Angels. What a blessing. I was given a round trip commercial airline ticket to and from Madison, Wisconsin. The airlines were so helpful as I needed wheelchair assistance and they even helped to get my luggage and get it to my local ride.
Because of Mercy Medical Angels, they were the blessing that allowed me to have this life changing surgery. Thank you so much Mercy Medical Angels for helping to change my life for the better.
Wayne is a veteran who lives in El Paso, Texas. His experiences in combat led to PTS. Life was getting difficult for him. It was a matter of just surviving day to day.
“Traditional therapies didn’t help me very much,” said Wayne. He wanted to be thriving, not merely surviving. He began to look for alternatives.
That was when Wayne discovered a healing retreat for veterans. “Their methodologies are different,” said Wayne, “I’d never seen some of them before.”
However, the retreat facility was in Houston, almost 700 miles away. Wayne couldn’t afford the airfare. Driving for more than ten hours wasn’t a good option either
He needed help getting to the retreat facility.
…and Help Received
Luckily for Wayne, Mercy Medical Angels and Southwest Airlines were able to help. Mercy Medical Angels arranged flights, and Southwest helped pay for the trip.
“I couldn’t have been able to go if it weren’t for Mercy Medical Angels and Southwest Airlines,” said Wayne. He adds, “The flight was great.”
Furthermore, the flight assistance helped him maintain financial stability. This meant he could focus on the retreat and the healing it provided.
Going from Surviving to Thriving
Wayne described his experience at the veterans’ retreat as “education and enlightening.” He also said, “The different methodologies are helping.” Thanks to the retreat – and the flight assistance – he’s maintaining physical and mental wellness.
When asked what he would say to potential donors, Wayne’s voice halts from the overwhelming emotion.
“It’s pretty significant – the statistics on PTS and veterans committing suicide because of it. Mercy Medical Angels and Southwest Airlines – keep people alive. Your donation can do the same – keeping people alive.”
When a veteran like Wayne lives with PTS, surviving can be a day-to-day struggle. But thanks to Mercy Medical Angels and Southwest Airlines, they have a chance at healing and hope. They can increase their quality of life, and go from surviving to thriving.
“ ‘Twas the night before Christmas,” the old poem regales,
But our mascot, Foxtrot, has different tales.
The airport was busy, families came together
Despite the dark night and the icy cold weather.
Other dogs were at home, curled up in their beds
While visions of playtime danced in their heads.
But not Foxtrot; our mascot was sniffing about
He was on a mission to find something out.
Then from Runway B, there arose such a clatter
Foxtrot just had to see what was the matter.
Foxtrot tracked the noise, and ran even faster
Hoping that it didn’t signal disaster.
All of a sudden, he heard a new sound:
A team in distress, falling to the ground.
That’s when he realized he had to act quick
Because the commotion had come from St. Nick!
“Santa,” called Foxtrot, “calm your reindeer!”
But poor Santa panicked – he couldn’t hear.
“Whoa, Dasher! Whoa, Dancer! Whoa, Prancer and Vixen!
Whoa, Comet! Whoa, Cupid! Whoa, Donner and Blitzen!”
“Please, reindeer, calm down! We’re going to fall!
Calm down, please! Calm down, all!”
Foxtrot took off his scarf, the fabric was bright
And waved it, guiding the sleigh through the night.
Santa managed to land, under great stress
The reindeer still acted a nervous mess.
That’s when Foxtrot wondered, “What happened up there?”
Santa sighed in reply, “The reindeer were scared.”
Santa added, “People don’t care anymore
Too focused on settling their own petty scores.”
The sad sentence from Santa made Foxtrot cry.
“I care,” said Foxtrot, “do you want to know why?”
With those words, light bathed the reindeer team
Then, dimming like embers, they lost the gleam.
Foxtrot got an idea, and it gave Santa cheer:
“If care works for me, it should work for reindeer!”
“Well then, Foxtrot,” said Santa, “I know that you care.
What led you to that? Please tell me your share.”
Foxtrot thought for a good long while
Hoping his words would bring back the smile.
“Children whose illnesses leave them in tears
I go on their flights and relieve their fears.”
“Veterans who live with unseen scars
Dogs like me open doors, help them reach for the stars.”
“Cancer patients fighting so hard to live
The gift of life is the best one to give.”
A wonder occured: the more Foxtrot told
The more Santa’s reindeer stood tall, proud, and bold!
Sure enough, Santa’s broad smile came back
Foxtrot patted each reindeer, and adjusted their tack.
“Thank you, Foxtrot, now we’ll be on our way!
You’ve made a difference, and saved the holiday.”
“You’re welcome, Santa! Safe travels up there!”
Starlight on sleigh bells, they took to the air.
But Foxtrot heard kind words, from Santa in flight:
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Maya was only 5 months old when she was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma.The doctors managed to get the cancer into remission. But just before her second birthday, she suffered a relapse. Since then, she’s been in and out of aggressive treatment for neuroblastoma. Her risk for another relapse or developing a secondary cancer is very high, because of all the radiation treatments. Because of this risk, she has to travel to New York for continued monitoring and treatment.
“Sometimes we had to travel as often as every two weeks, or monthly,” said Amber, who is Maya’s mother. “We have been traveling for nearly ten years. Even though she only needs to go a few times a year now, it has become extremely difficult for us to pay for travel.”
Odds Are Difficult With Neuroblastoma…
Aside from being in and out of the hospital, Maya’s family doesn’t have the resources to pay for repeated flights to New York. Worse, Maya and her family lives in California – almost 2,500 miles away from the treatment center. But the long-distance travel to treatment is saving her life, and preventing further problems.
Maya’s life was hanging in the balance. The odds were difficult enough without the added burden of traveling to treatment. Her family was running out of resources – and worse, running out of time.
…But Not Impossible
That’s when Mercy Medical Angels and Hogan Foundation stepped in. Mercy Medical Angels arranged travel from Maya’s home in California to to New York, while Hogan Foundation paid for the tickets.
“They really saved money we didn’t have,” said Amber. “Providing us with flights covered the financial costs of transportation to Maya’s cancer treatment.” She adds, “We are so appreciative.”
“A Special Group of Angels”
Now, Maya is 12 years old and doing much better. She will need help getting to her treatments for neuroblastoma in the future. Mercy Medical Angels and Hogan Foundation will continue to help her get there.
Amber has a message to potential donors: “If someone asked me whether they should give to Mercy Medical Angels, I would tell them they absolutely should!” She adds, “I would tell our story and explain how we wouldn’t be able to continue treatment without them.”
“They’re an amazing organization… what a special group of angels!”
Flights For Her Heart
Tabitha has flown with the volunteer pilot program of Mercy Medical Angels for a few years. She has a number of rare diseases, some of which affect her heart. Because she can’t find treatment near her home in the Outer Banks, she has to fly to Cleveland Clinic. Luckily, the volunteer pilots are always there to help her.
“They go above and beyond,” said Tabitha, “and I’m so grateful. They did great.”
Recently, Tabitha had to fly back to Cleveland Clinic because one of the artificial heart valves calcified. She needs to have it replaced. This will require surgery on her heart.
A scan also found lesions in her neck, which could be cancerous. Tabitha has to make another flight to Cleveland Clinic to find out the next steps.
On top of all this, a connective tissue disorder is causing her to live in pain. “But the heart was the worst pain.” said Tabitha.
…and New Beginnings
But it’s not all darkness in Tabitha’s life. Sunbeams of hope are peeking through the clouds of illness, sending light to her heart. She recently welcomed more grandkids to the family. As her family grows, she tries to keep in touch with as many as she can.
Tabitha said, “Ever since surgery, I try to make a memory.” For example, her daughter used to be terrified of flying. Tabitha planned a birthday surprise – an airplane ride! The two of them had a lot of fun, and it was a birthday to remember.
One of Tabitha’s grandchildren is starting high school. He helped her out over the summer, and introduced her to his friends. “All of his friends call me grandma,” said Tabitha. In return, she’s teaching him the basics of driving.
Straight From The Heart
If someone asked Tabitha about donating to Mercy Medical Angels, she has an answer ready. “Even if you never meet them, you’ve probably saved someone’s life. You’ve extended a family’s time and memories. You may need the help someday.”
Tabitha adds, “You can see who you helped on Twitter and other social media. So you know where the donation’s going. If you’re thinking of giving, give to Mercy Medical Angels.”
Despite all her challenges, Tabitha remains optimistic. She says, “Everything’s a blessing.” Thanks to the people who support Mercy Medical Angels, patients like Tabitha can follow their hearts to healing.
Battle Scarred, Purple Heart
Paul is a veteran of the U.S. Army who served in Afghanistan. One day, he was on patrol with his fellow soldiers in a vehicle. That was when disaster struck: their vehicle ran over a roadside bomb. The impact of the blast threw him and the other soldiers onto the road. Some of them were killed instantly. “I lost some of my closest friends that day,” said Paul. After this event, Paul put on a tough façade so he could keep fighting. He was awarded a Purple Heart.
Even Heroes Need Help
But when Paul got home, he started having problems with his memory. Also, he couldn’t go out in crowds and started having nightmares and flashbacks. “I knew I needed help,” said Paul.
He went to the nearest VA hospital. A doctor at the VA diagnosed him with a Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress. The doctor also suggested a service dog to help Paul. Unfortunately, the best service dog facility was in Texas, hundreds of miles away from his home in Virginia. “I was going down a dark road,” said Paul.
“My New Best Friend”
Luckily, Mercy Medical Angels’ veterans program was able to help him. The non-profit provided free airline tickets so Paul could travel to Texas. Once in Texas, he received his service dog, Chase. Chase is an intelligent German Shepherd. He can sense when Paul is having a nightmare or flashback, and helps him navigate stressful situations. His vest is purple and gold, to represent the Purple Heart that Paul was awarded. Paul said that Chase is “my new best friend.”
When asked what he would say to potential donors, Paul gets choked up. “I don’t know how to thank Mercy Medical Angels enough. They are heaven-sent, helping us Veterans when we need it the most. They helped save my life.”
Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis
Seven years ago, Johnnie was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. Because of the disease, he had to quit his job and apply for disability benefits. After two years, he had to apply for Medicare as well. Johnnie couldn’t find adequate treatment in his home state of Alabama. Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Illinois offered him flight assistance so he could receive radiation and chemo.
“This is where things got all messed up,” said Johnnie. A representative from Medicare told him that the cancer center couldn’t help with transportation anymore. “And just like that, my transportation to treatment ended.”
Mercy Medical Angels to the Rescue
Luckily for Johnnie, he found out about Mercy Medical Angels. Mercy Medical Angels provided flight assistance for Johnnie, so he could go to the treatments he needed. “In my mind,” said Johnnie, “they are nothing short of a godsend!”
As of 2015, Johnnie is in remission. “My cancer mysteriously vanished,” he said, “much to the amazement of my medical team.” However, the team at Cancer Treatment Centers of America wanted to be on the safe side. They required Johnnie to go back once a year for scans and blood tests. This was to make sure the cancer would not return; if it did, they could stop it early. Mercy Medical Angels has continued to fly him to checkups for the past four years. “Every time I have contacted them, they have been very professional and caring.”
“You Have Been My Angels”
Johnnie dyes his beard purple, the color for pancreatic cancer. He says, “It’s a great conversation starter so I can share with folks my journey.” It’s a journey that Mercy Medical Angels made possible.
“If it weren’t for the assistance from Mercy Medical Angels, I am not sure what I would have done. From the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every one of you. You have been my angels!”