You couldn’t tell it from Debbie’s energetic conversing, but she has Short Gut Syndrome. This prevents her intestines from absorbing nutrients. She lives in Eastern Tennessee, but has to go to Cleveland Clinic in Ohio for treatment. Mercy Medical Angels is helping her access the care she needs. “They’re an uplifting breath of fresh air,” says Debbie.
In early December 2017, Mercy Medical Angels scheduled Debbie to go on a Delta flight. The flight faced a delay. This could have landed her in trouble before she even got off the ground.
When the pilot found out it was a medical flight, he personally helped her. He knew two doctors (Debbie said that “they sure didn’t look like doctors”) who asked her about what was going on. The pilot had originally planned to set her up in a hotel, but the doctors told her to go to the hospital. Keeping up the kindness, the pilot paid for a taxi to the ER. The doctors added, “If you get delayed, let us know and we’ll call.” Debbie views this overwhelmingly positive experience as a miracle in itself.
The ER wasn’t delayed, but the hospital stay was unexpectedly prolonged. Debbie was told she would need to stay for two days. The doctors at Cleveland Clinic found out that she had an infection, which meant she had to stay longer. Now she’s back home and feeling much better.
“There’s no way I can get there without Mercy Medical Angels,” says Debbie. “They definitely have the right name.”
More medical appointments are coming up on Debbie’s calendar. With the help she receives from Mercy Medical Angels, she trusts that miracles will continue to happen.
Pain is Temporary, Miracles are Forever
Recently, Debbie called Mercy Medical Angels back. For the first time in years, she was leaving the house in nice clothes. Her reason: “I want to surprise my Bible Study group!”
The pain of Short Gut Syndrome might have temporarily trapped Debbie – but pain didn’t last. With the help of Mercy Medical Angels, the miracles of healing and life endure.
Lessons of the Heart
Tabitha was an English teacher in high school for 18 years. She has a big family, one that set a good example for her when she was younger. Her father would fix cars and give them to families in need – along with the keys and completed paperwork. One of his favorite expressions was: “You reap what you sow.” Her mother was kind, but didn’t tolerate bad language. “I would come up with my own words,” Tabitha explains, “and I still use them. My grandkids tease me about it.”
Tabitha married and had children, who in turn had grandchildren. After a while, that marriage didn’t work out. She took the chance to pick up daring hobbies. Hang gliding, rock climbing, and canoeing became her outlets. After a while, she married again; her second husband brought some children with him.
Tabitha continues, this time describing her health. Her first cardiac arrest occurred when she was only 19. Just when she thought her heart was back to normal, she had some more problems in her 20s. Because of the damage to her heart, Tabitha needed specialized treatment. On top of the heart problems, she has 17 rare conditions, some of which doctors haven’t heard of. Some of these put her body in what she calls “attack mode.”
As if those problems weren’t enough, Tabitha explains how the hospitals are rated with report cards. Instead of helping, the report cards end up harming. Hospitals worry so much about the rating that they don’t take certain patients. If a patient died or developed further complications, that would affect the hospital’s rating. She traveled to multiple hospitals – Sentara Norfolk General, UVA, Johns Hopkins – but all of them said she was too high-risk. They more or less gave up on her, and figured she would die anyway. Tabitha’s musical North Carolina accent, normally upbeat, turns downcast: “They dropped the ball.”
Another challenge Tabitha faced wasn’t directly related to her medical needs. Instead, it had to do with her location. The small-town dynamics of the Outer Banks made word of mouth an obstacle. If a few doctors heard about her and refused to help, it wouldn’t be long before all the doctors had the news. This led to a negative bias. But she couldn’t do anything about this – “I can’t get up and move.”
At one point, Tabitha was reading about Cleveland Clinic. This hospital has one of the best cardiac centers in the country. She applied, and the clinic accepted. “It gave me a chance to be seen by an unbiased doctor.” The first problem – finding a hospital that would accept her – was solved. Still, she faced a second problem: a means of transportation to and from Cleveland Clinic.
That’s when Tabitha found out about Mercy Medical Angels. After all she had been through, Tabitha didn’t get her hopes up. “I thought I would get shot down immediately, or have too many forms.” However, Mercy Medical Angels had a very direct approach. Tabitha was pleasantly surprised. “They graciously provided tickets out of Norfolk,” she said, adding that Norfolk was the closest airport.
Part of Tabitha’s journey involved a learning experience. She describes herself as a giver, and that she deals with the pain because she’s used to it. “I don’t necessarily want to take or ask for help,” she explains. If someone refused to offer help after she asked for it, she would feel embarrassed. Yet now she had to accept all the help she could get. Tabitha states that she’s grateful to everyone, including the people who helped her get through the airport via wheelchair. “It’s a lesson in humility,” Tabitha says.
Through everything, Tabitha is active in her faith and family. She wants to “be a smile” even though she’s struggling. “My prayer is to be well enough to help.” Then her voice chokes up. She wants to get all her kids and grandkids together so she can get a picture with everyone “in case something goes wrong.”
The doctors at Cleveland Clinic told her that her health will dramatically improve. “To be able to imagine the benefits – I can’t. Like when I was young again.”
Tabitha needs to return to Cleveland Clinic again soon. They will provide more help for her heart. She says that cardiac patients need a lot of medical clearance to fly. Still, she trusts that Mercy Medical Angels will continue to help.
Heavy Circumstances, Light Heart
Recently, Tabitha wrote a letter to Mercy Medical Angels. She had been in the hospital a few months ago. Complications prolonged her stay. There were more problems as well, from finances running low to issues within her family.
Nonetheless, she is grateful to Mercy Medical Angels for all the help they gave her. “I laugh and cry as I write this,” wrote Tabitha. “Not tears of sadness, tears of joy and appreciation, and laughter that as long as I have breath, I have a chance.”
These circumstances could weigh anyone down. Still, Tabitha’s heart is in the sky.
Obstacles, Inside and Out
Janie lives in Montana, a state filled with mountains and cold weather. For many people, those alone would become obstacles. The obstacles Janie faces aren’t necessarily brutal terrain or bitter temperatures. It’s not just what’s outside, because she encounters a difficulty on the inside. She has a rare bone disease known as septic arthritis.
Septic arthritis is not something to be taken lightly. If Janie gets an infection, it goes straight to her joints and starts damaging the bones around it. “Once I got strep throat and it went to my hip,” Janie explained. “It ate the whole ball-and-socket joint.” Another time, an infection attacked her neck. She needed titanium to fill in where the bones were gone.
Nobody in Montana was able to help Janie. However, there were bone surgeons who were experts on septic arthritis, based in Chicago. The problem: long distance air travel would be too expensive. As she tried to find a solution, her condition went from chronic to acute. “When it’s acute, that means I need help very quickly.”
In The Nick Of Time
At a crucial point, Janie found out about Mercy Medical Angels. Then she ran into another problem: she needed help with the online application. One of the transportation coordinators helped her complete it. Janie gave a threefold compliment: “They were very cordial, very understanding, and very helpful.”
Aside from bone disease, Janie deals with other problems. Flying with metal bone replacements makes the security line a nightmare. Because of the harsh Montana winter, she often ends up snowed in. She has to move in the early summer. Despite all this, her faith keeps her going. “It’s a hard life, but I’ve done well,” she affirmed.
Holding Fast to Hope
Janie is especially thankful for what Mercy Medical Angels does. “They’re miraculous, amazing, a gift, just a wonderful organization.” When the obstacles seem too high, Mercy Medical Angels raises her up on wings of hope.
Caught Off Guard
Anissa was a business professor in Tennessee. In 2007, she married and soon after became pregnant. During her pregnancy, her health took an unexpected turn. “I was out of breath, like an athlete,” Anissa said, “except I wasn’t an athlete.” She suspected something was wrong. Her suspicions were proved correct when she went in for routine blood work. The results came back with a grim diagnosis: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM. She also was diagnosed with a potentially fatal liver disease. Anissa needed a double organ transplant. In her words, “It’s like tasting death every time you need a major organ.”
Because of complications from HCM and liver disease, Anissa had to quit her job. She was running out of resources. Worse, she was running out of time.
Travel for Transplant
The doctors in Tennessee were unable to help Anissa. “The doctors were only treating my condition, not curing it.” That meant Anissa’s best option was to seek a cure somewhere else. After conducting some research, she learned that she would have to go to the transplant specialists at Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic is over 700 miles away from her home. She couldn’t afford to travel such a long distance.
One day, Anissa looked on the Internet for help. That’s when she found Mercy Medical Angels. Mercy Medical Angels paid for airline tickets so Anissa could travel to Mayo Clinic. In 2013, she received a life-saving double organ transplant: a new heart and a new liver. She is now recovering. Anissa says that one of the main reasons she stays strong is her family, especially her two sons.
When asked how Mercy Medical Angels impacted her life, Anissa’s answer shows signs of hope. “Things were looking down for a while. Now, things are finally starting to look up.”
My name is Teresa, and I am a mother of two beautiful daughters. When my youngest, Carrie was just three months old, she stopped eating, and I knew something was wrong. At first, our family pediatrician suggested we try a different formula. My mother’s intuition said it was something more, and after several tests, she was diagnosed with Leukemia. I was referred to a pediatric specialist at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas. The doctor’s office is over 700 miles from our home. We do not have the financial means to travel this long distance, and all I could think of was how I could get my baby there so she could see the specialist and receive the life-saving medical care she needed.
When I called to make her an appointment, the doctor’s office recommended Mercy Medical Angels as a possible solution for our transportation needs. Cathy, a Mercy Medical Angels mission coordinator, was so professional and helpful she immediately went into action and was able to provide us airline tickets at no cost to us. I cried tears of joy because this alleviated the burden of transportation for Carrie’s specialized treatment plan.
Without the help of Mercy Medical Angels, we would not be celebrating Carrie’s 5th birthday next month. My husband and I are thankful that Mercy Medical Angels was there when we needed them and we want them to be able to continue to be there for families like ours. So we reached out to Robb Alpaugh, President of Mercy Medical Angels. He said, “It’s simple we follow our mission to ensure we help as many patients as we can.”
“The mission of Mercy Medical Angels is to ensure that no one in need is denied medical care because they don’t have transportation. Mercy Medical Angels provides FREE transportation on the ground with gas cards, bus and train tickets and in the air with commercial airlines and general aviation flights. Mercy Medical Angels serves children, adults, elderly and veterans every day.”
Our story is one of many. Mercy Medical Angels provides transportation to and from life-saving medical care to patients in need. They are HOPE Delivered Daily.
Mercy Medical Angels needs your HELP! Please support the mission and make a gift to Mercy Medical Angels to celebrate Carrie’s birthday or in honor of Mother’s Day! Your donation will allow families, like ours, the opportunity to live the full, happy lives they deserve.
Donate today by returning your donation in the envelope provided or donate online at www.MercyMedical.org/donate-now
Decorated World War II veteran and Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic Pilot of the Year John Billings is taking the flight of a lifetime around America to raise awareness of public benefit flying while fulfilling his dream.
The flight is attracting media attention everywhere John and his co-pilot, Nevin Showman, go. Watch this excellent news segment from the NBC affiliate in Albemarle County, Virginia.
Southeastern Virginia Health System (SEVHS) in Newport News is one of eight community health centers in the greater Hampton Roads area that helps the insured, underinsured, and uninsured. They also are one of four clinics in the area that offers health treatment for the homeless, otherwise known as Health Care for the Homeless (HCH). SEVHS is part of the National Association of Community Health Centers. In the Commonwealth of Virginia alone, there are roughly 71 health clinics with a similar system of health care treatment. In this year, some 982 homeless visitors have come to SEVHS, and approximately 70 of them traveled further on Angel Wheels, a ground transportation program operated by the nonprofit charity Mercy Medical Angels.
I made a visit to the clinic to get some coverage on SEVHS and its progress, and notably in a time of a heightened health care debate in the country. Like Angel Wheels, SEVHS is considered a non-profit 501(c)(3) charity and has a staff of doctors certified in a wide scale of basic medical treatment, which also includes dental and family care. Even health insurance is offered at the clinic. Needless to say, the argument doesn’t stop SEVHS from delivering optimal service.
The community health center and its Angel Wheels partner have notable histories. SEVHS began from an initiative effort by the Whittaker Memorial Hospital in Newport News in the late 1970s. Community members gauged development of the health services project with a board of directors set to fund and run the clinic for those in need. The clinic had become independent of government funding and taxpayers alike.
Angel Wheels was founded in 2000 by a bus owner from South Dakota, Bill Connor, whose son, Jarad, had to travel a long distance to be treated for cancer at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Connor would drive Jarad in a luxurious motor coach so his son could ride in comfort. Realizing that other patients could benefit from such travel, Connor founded Angel Wheels as a network of motor coach owners/drivers. The program grew, with volunteer drivers signing up from many different states. Sadly, Jarad died in 2004, and Bill died four years later. His widow, Nola, asked Mercy Medical Angels to take over the program, and for two years, the driver/bus owner model continued, with some 90 volunteers enrolled. But compared to the need on a national scale, the number of volunteers was miniscule and the means of transport impractical.
One day a homeless veteran stopped by the Mercy Medical Angels office in Virginia Beach, wondering if any resources were available for him to travel to the VA hospital in Hampton, some 30 miles away. A senior staff member bought him a bus ticket on Hampton Roads Transit, and that was when Angel Wheels turned a corner to begin reaching a large and growing population of underserved patients—the homeless, the uninsured, the working poor. These folks receive basic medical care at free and community health clinics, but when distant specialized treatment is needed, they have no means of traveling to cooperating medical centers in larger cities. That is where Angel Wheels steps in to provide Greyhound or Amtrak tickets or fuel cards, providing 1,838 completed or scheduled trips in Virginia from 2013 to mid-December.
Loretta Gaillard is a SEVHS caseworker in charge of Health Care for the Homeless. So far this year 270 people have joined HCH with Gaillard, and 25-30 patients have been referred by her to Angel Wheels. First, patients who are accepted into HCH submit an application for their health care card that must be renewed each January. A separate application for Angel Wheels is then processed for approval during a two-to-three week span of time based on the necessary treatment for the patient. Doctors at SEVHS typically refer on the basis for the need of additional treatment with a specialist at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond. Commonly, this will be an orthopedic specialist or urologist working in either a resident clinic or low-income care. Patients who qualify undergo additional screening to determine if they have anyone available to drive them the distance.
Additionally, caseworkers ask the patient to commit to Angel Wheels on a two-year program where they will see their doctor every 90 days. Medication refills are also verified through the caseworkers and provided by the in-house pharmacy at SEVHS. The 25-30 estimated patients Gaillard works with take the Greyhound bus from Newport News about 90 percent of the time. The remainder will sometimes take the Amtrak train to Charlottesville (University of Virginia Medical Center) or to Richmond. These trips are paid for and coordinated by Angel Wheels.
“You have some who are so grateful…those who swear by Angel Wheels,” Loretta Gaillard told me during my visit. I would add that it takes the heartfelt compassion of caseworkers like Ms. Gaillard to get the patients on the bus, the same driving compassion that brings together a community and ensures their well-being.
2013, Mercy Medical Angels celebrated its 100,000th patient mission with a reception and program at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia. In his keynote speech, our President explained the significance of that figure and the importance of MMA to the national need for patient access on into the future.
Good evening, and thank you for coming. I sincerely trust you will enjoy this evening, that you will take the opportunity to meet new friends, and that you will learn things you haven’t known before.
I would hope you will be thinking through the evening about how important this program is for the needy among us throughout the United States – for without MM programs, many cannot afford the long distance travel often necessary to access a medical specialist for evaluation, diagnosis or treatment.
Their need may sound simple – like going from Fairfax to Richmond or Charlottesville – for that is where free clinic patients must go for specialist appointments in Virginia. No way to get there, then no specialist medical care. We support this type of trip for needy patients in Virginia now – about 175 times a month.
Another need….We flew a Maryland family with a very young child to a life saving “one of a kind” infant heart operation done only at Stanford University Hospital in California. The operation saved the child’s life.
You will meet the child’s mother and her thriving daughter later this evening.
The origins of Mercy Medical go back nearly 50 years when I spent the last 3½ years of the 1960’s as a civilian professional engineer with the U.S Air Force traveling from base to base in South Vietnam solving technical problems, and making sure I always ducked at the right time. I hitchhiked to travel around Vietnam in the back ends of Air Force C-130 and C-123K cargo planes – often sitting between rows of stretchers of wounded men headed to a distant military hospital. There were never enough medical attendants, and the nurses just simply expected me to help – not to sleep. That was my introduction to long-distance medical evacuation – and the exposure took.
In early 1970 I was transferred back to Washington, DC into the slightly more settled job as Chief Engineer of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. I again became an active pilot in general aviation in the northern Virginia area and by mid-1972, the long-distance charitable medical air transportation program – later to be known as Mercy Medical Angels – was born. That was more than 103,000 patients ago, and we are here to give thanks to the Lord and celebrate the job so very well done in total safety by a whole cadre of volunteers, office staff, individual supporters, airline sponsors, corporate donors, churches, civic clubs and philanthropic foundation donors.
I thank all of you. We are really celebrating YOU!
As you know, pilots use check lists and flight manuals – but in 1972 when the program first started, I couldn’t find anything written on how to undertake such a task on a nation-wide philanthropic basis. It simply would never work if we tried to charge for our services. The need was there because people could not pay. Some of the needs are mid-night calls for a patient transport to a Pittsburgh transplant center at 2 a.m. in the morning when an organ suddenly becomes available. Most needs, however, are known days in advance and are planned under more calm routine circumstances.
Distances and circumstances vary – so accordingly we select and ensure the provision of the most appropriate form of long-distance charitable transportation. It can be on a commercial airline, in a privately-owned general aviation aircraft flown by a highly qualified volunteer pilot – or it could be a ground mode transport by Greyhound Bus, by AMTRAK, or via a volunteer motor coach driver or in a patient neighbor’s car for which we have provided a gas card. We are very flexible – something government programs simply can’t do.
When I look into the future today, I am seeing the need for long-distance travel for medical purposes growing everywhere around this nation. No matter how hard Washington tries to meet the need, it simply isn’t significantly happening.
Now, if you believe what I am saying, chances are, involvement in this societal issue will be in your personal future as well.
How then shall we proceed to help needy patients, doing it efficiently, doing it with the Good Samaritan’s grace, and thereby honoring our Lord God?
Let me first ask you a few questions:
- Are health care costs going down?
- Is the number of doctors in the marketplace increasing?
- Is the cost of travel going down?
- What about the cost of gasoline?
- Are doctors still coming to see you in your home?
- Does the free clinic, medical facility or specialty hospital come to you?
OK – Then:
- We must complete the health care access mosaic in America. One mode or design simply doesn’t fit all.
- We must make it work efficiently, and we must ensure patient access or there is no point to any of the great medical advances.
The medical academics say it is all about patient access. We agree with them—and we have studied it, worked it, and after 40 years of experience, we believe we have learned how to do it in various efficient and effective ways.
We are Mercy Medical – and we are all about patient access now and into the future.
I invite each of you to find a special way you can become a part of completing this medical access mosaic in the United States of America It may save the life of a family member or someone else dear to you.
Mark your calendar for a celebration of the one millionth patient transport. It will happen sooner than you think!
I again than you for coming.
It was an unusual form of cancer that Richard was diagnosed with, but among older patients, it was not uncommon. Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington was the only place where the rare bone-marrow treatment could be done for Richard.
Richard is 72 years old and lives with his wife. As with many older Americans, they are living on a fixed income. Having to purchase airfare for frequent round trips from New York to Seattle was not an option. Living on a fixed income is already challenging to make ends meet, Richard was left without options.
This is where Mercy Medical Angels flew in to help! Through their airline transportation program tickets were purchased for both Richard and his wife. In addition, MMA was able to coordinate a volunteer pilot to fly them both from there rural area home to the airport through their partner charity, Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic. This is another patient travel program offered through Mercy Medical Angels using volunteer pilots and general aviation.
The programs that Mercy Medical Angels offer have been helping patients “spread their wings” for over 45 years. Find out ways you can help by visiting www.mercymedical.org and to learn more about our Volunteer Pilot programs visit www.angelflightmidatlantic.org.
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