Indiana Township man provides a lift for cancer patients
Stephen Plut is a chauffeur with a cause.
The semi-retired corporate executive and consultant from Indiana Township volunteers as a driver with the American Cancer Society’s nationwide Road To Recovery program. The program provides free transportation for cancer patients undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy.
“I have had a good life and I want to give back,” Plut said.
Plut is one of 39 drivers who volunteers for the program in Allegheny County. American Cancer Society officials said there is an urgent need for volunteers.
So far this year, nearly half of ride requests have gone unfulfilled, said Teresa Segelson, mission delivery program manager for the American Cancer Society. Only 1,575 of 2,800 requests have been granted this year in Allegheny County.
“Transportation is one of the biggest barriers for cancer patients and it can be time consuming and patients are often tired,” Segelson said. “Even the best treatment can’t work if a cancer patient is unable to get there.”
Plut, 59, schedules pickups online and provides round-trip transportation in his SUV to a variety of Allegheny County cancer treatment centers such as Allegheny Health Network’s West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield.
“Often patients I am driving need transportation because their cancer treatments are during the day and their relatives work or they don’t have someone available to take them,” Plut said.
Plut set an annual goal of providing 100 rides. He exceeded that number this year with more than 140 rides.
“Stephen is the greatest guy in the world,” said Bob Roche, 78, Greenfield resident and cancer ride recipient. “He is always on time and such a nice guy. The rides to treatment have taken a lot of pressure off of me.”
Plut said he really didn’t volunteer previously, and felt bad about that.
“I decided to try and help one person, then another, and another,” Plut said. “The patients I drive are so courageous and so grateful. It just makes me feel good to be participating in this program.”
Plut strives to maintain a mostly scent free vehicle, since many cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments develop a sensitivity to odors. He stores a step stool in the backseat and assists his riders, generally making a big fuss over their comfort, safety and well-being.
He always lets the patient lead the way in terms of car conversations.
He recalled one male patient that celebrated his last day of treatments with a special request.
The man wanted to take his life-sized replica of the Stanley Cup to his last appointment, so they loaded it into Plut’s SUV.
“When I came back to pick him up later he was beaming,” Plut said. “The cup had been a huge hit and he had taken a bunch of selfies with the nurses and they had a great time. Seeing someone with such a serious medical condition laughing, smiling and having fun, I mean, that’s why I am a volunteer in this program.”
Segelson said volunteers such as Plut are invaluable.
“He is amazing and truly wants to make a personal connection with the patients. He listens to them. He goes above and beyond,” Segelson said.
To volunteer: cancer.org
*A good driving record
*A current and valid driver’s license
* Proof of automobile insurance
* ages 18-85
*Pass background checks, paid for by the American Cancer Society
*Regular access to a computer or laptop
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.