ShareThis Page

Angels fly close to the ground to help others

| Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007

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.

Additional Information:


To 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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me