Angels fly close to the ground to help others
Phillip and Laura Plotts hoped a bone-marrow transplant at a hospital hundreds of miles from their West End home would help their daughter, Briahna, beat a rare form of leukemia.
Standing in their way was about $1,200 in airfare.
A volunteer in an airplane came to their rescue in August. He flew the family to Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., for free.
The pilot was part of Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic -- a nonprofit, air medical-transportation organization that has received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expand its reach in Pennsylvania.
Part of the national Angel Flight America, the Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic matches volunteer pilots with financially strapped patients and their families.
"It was wonderful what they did," said Phillip Plotts, 41, who works for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic even arranged a "compassion flight" to give Plotts a return trip to visit Laura, 47, and Briahna, 3, during their three-month stay in North Carolina.
The Plottses chose Duke to treat their daughter's myelogenous leukemia after a partial bone-marrow transplant here failed. Angel Flight did not identify the Plottses' pilot.
Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic coordinates travel missions in a 10-state region to match needy patients with specialized medical evaluation, diagnosis or treatment.
A network of 139 volunteer pilots flew 738 people in Pennsylvania on nearly 500 missions last year. The cost of those flights on commercial airlines would have been $346,352, the organization said.
Nationally, Angel Flight America arranged flights for more than 25,000 passengers on 19,000 missions in 2005. The cost of those flights on commercial airlines would have been $1.8 million.
Volunteer pilot Harry Neel, 57, of Pleasant Hills, said his 23 missions over the past two years are "not nearly enough."
"I wanted to do one a week or two a week," he said. "If you're going to help people, help people."
Neel said it costs him about $100 an hour to operate his 1984 Mooney 201, but he doesn't calculate a lot of the costs associated with flying the plane on Angel Flight missions.
"If I'm going to burn gas, I might as well make it count for something," Neel said. "These people have more guts ... they are always upbeat. They embarrass those of us who gripe all the time."
During Briahna's three-month stay at Duke, her condition improved.
"She was riding her bike up and down the halls. She did very well," Laura Plotts said.
Brianha's cancer -- a rare disorder in children in which bone marrow produces too many white blood cells -- resurfaced and Briahna died Nov. 8 after returning to Pittsburgh. She was six days shy of her fourth birthday.
"It's a struggle. We're surviving," said Phillip Plotts.
DetailsTo qualify for Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic medical transportation services, patients must:
- Have financial need of assistance
- Be medically cleared to fly in a non-pressurized small aircraft
- Be ambulatory and sit upright in a standard aircraft seat
- Not require medical care en route
- Not have a communicable disease
- Provide supplemental oxygen, if needed
- Provide ground transportation to and from the airport, as well as lodging arrangements
Source: Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic.