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The True Friendly Skies

From left, Kathy Broussard of Angel Flight, Clarice Haynes, Minden cancer patient, her cousin, Lynnie Dragland, and fellow pilot, Jim Happell, get ready to take Haynes to her treatment in Houston. Angel Flight is a nonprofit organization that transports patients to treatment facilities who cannot afford the travel expenses.

Organization helps patients nationwide

Michelle Bates
Press-Herald Staff

The phrase "on a wing and a prayer" now takes on a new meaning for thousands of cancer patients and private pilots across the nation.

A non-profit organization called Angel Flight, which began in the 1970s, flies patients who must have treatment away from their home to their destinations for treatment.

For one local cancer patient, this organization has truly been a Godsend, she said.

Clarice Haynes of Minden, who was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer), travels to Houston to M.D. Anderson Research Hospital at least twice a week for treatment. She travels six hours one way by car, but with Angel Flight, it doesn't take near as long.

"I had not heard of Angel Flight until a nurse had mentioned it to my husband while I was in for a treatment [chemotherapy]," she said. "I'll tell you, it's a Godsend. It's just wonderful, because the traffic is so bad in Houston."
Angel Flight, which is based in Dallas, Texas, is a group of private pilots who decided to do something charitable with their time. Kathy Broussard of Houston, also a private pilot, said there was no better way to get in her flight hours than to do something useful.

Haynes' cousin, Lynnie Dragland, had the opportunity to travel with her on one flight to M.D. Anderson. She said, "These are people who work every day and they do this on their days off or when the get off work."

"It's a win-win situation," Broussard said. "It just seems like Angel Flight is the best kept secret around, and we don't like that.

"The pilot has to be current, so if he flies a patient, he gets to deduct all of his expenses on his income tax [under charitable deductions]. The bottom line is when the money runs out, and the insurance doesn't pay, the patient will stay home and die. That's just not an option."

She said when Angel Flight began, a group of pilots got together in the eastern United States and they started flying just to stay current.

"They said, 'Hey, why don't we start flying somebody in the name of charity. We stay current and we're gonna burn holes in the sky anyway. It costs money, so why not do it for a cause, that way they [cancer patients] get to get in for their treatment,'" she said. "It kind of migrated down here [to Texas] and it's called Angel Flight South Central and it's based in Dallas."

Broussard, who became involved in 1997, is a ground coordinator for Angel Flight. Her job is to make sure that people get pilots when they need them and make sure they get to their destination once the plane touches the ground.

"We started the ground coordination crew in 2000," she said. "We're the only place in Angel Flight that has this. What we do is when the pilot is in the air, we arrange for ground transportation to meet them at the local airports or to the hospital or to the hotel where they're lodging."

If the trip is more than 200 miles, Angel Flight starts on a relay system. This works like a relay race. The patient is basically handed from one pilot to another until the patient reaches his destination. For instance, if a patient lives in Illinois and must travel to Texas for treatment, then the patient will change planes until he gets there. Pilots will be lined up in advance to get the patient where he needs to go.

This organization is nationwide and is broken up into different chapters. When a patient from one chapter calls because they must go to a treatment center located in another chapter's district, then the ground coordinators, or Ground Angels, will line up the pilots from each chapter covered in the flight plan until the patient reaches his destination.

"If we can just make just a little bit of a difference...," Broussard said, as tears sprang up.

After a brief pause, she said, "The main objective is if they live in an area where they have to drive for several hours to get to the hospital, or if there's no public transportation or if it's not affordable for them, then we fly them at no cost to them."
Patients must sign a release form that releases liabilities from the pilots. That way, if something happens, the patient cannot sue the pilot or Angel Flight.

The upside for the pilots is just as good as the upside for the patients they transport. All expenses including plane maintenance, fuel, and time is all deductible from their income taxes each year. Also, the pilot is able to keep his log hours up in order to keep his pilot's license.

"They have to fly to keep their license, and what better way to do it than to donate their time and experience to charity," Broussard said.

"I just don't know what I've done all this time without Angel Flight," Haynes said. "I'm going to become a ground angel when I can. I believe in this group. It's just wonderful."

"They [the pilots] don't know that it's a write off," Broussard said. "They can write off the plane, they can write off so much for their time and it's all deducted from their income taxes."

Also, regulations for the pilots must be followed, such as maintaining insurance, maintenance on the plane, and all expenses dealing with the plane. Also, pilots don't have to have an IFR, which is an instrument rating. All that is required is that the pilot have 200 log hours.

Cancer patients are not the only people that are flown by this organization. Broussard has personally flown burn victims who are children to Shriner's Hospital in Texas.

Also, those who don't fly or just those with giving hearts can make donations to Angel Flight. The money goes directly to the organization in order to maintain computers, rent offices, and literature for Angel Flight. Also, the organization has three paid employees, one part-time employee and one volunteer on staff at all times.

"They'll see where every penny is going," Broussard said. "We're trying to get a big recruitment of pilots in the Minden area."

To find out more about Angel Flight or for a pilot who wants to volunteer, go to their web site at www.angliflightsc.org.
Once there, click on the link, "Documents" and this site will provide all the paperwork necessary to join and for patients to fill out the necessary information to request a plane. For flight requests or information, call the main office at (972) 458-0700 or call Kathy Broussard at 281-839-1411.

from the Minden Press-Herald, Online Edition
Minden, Louisiana

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