For Heaven Wright, a single mother, finding a community of support has always been essential. Her two-year-old daughter, Monroe, was born without eyes — and the Wrights’ hometown of Las Vegas offers limited resources in optometry.
“Monroe has hydrogels,” Heaven says, “which go in place of eyeballs and have prosthetic shells over them. We found a doctor in Utah who was the only doctor able to do those.”
Now, Heaven and Monroe regularly travel to and from Utah for doctor consultations, to change the sizes of the hydrogels, or, as Heaven puts it, “to figure out what’s next.” Monroe’s rare condition — bilateral anophtalmia — offers no shortage of unknowns.
Through it all, they’ve been able to rely on the volunteer pilots of Angel Flight West to get them where they need to go. And fortunately for Heaven, her daughter is an eager and curious passenger — one who doesn’t have a moment’s pause before taking to the sky. “She loves getting in the plane,” Heaven said. “She loves putting on the headset. She loves the seatbelt. The girl loves to fly.”
All of the volunteers at Angel Flight West are quick to return the affection of this charismatic little traveler. As she makes indelible connections with each pilot she meets, Monroe has been gifted two hand-knitted quilts. “I was so emotional the day we got those quilts,” Heaven said. “Monroe is very sensory-driven, so she won’t sit on the floor unless there’s a blanket. We use those often. We take them to the park.”
Jim Sandmire is one of the many pilots who has helped Monroe and her mother fly to care. Though he notes every flight with Angel Flight West has been meaningful as a new volunteer pilot, Jim holds a special memory of his flight with Monroe. “She was so loving and so warm,” Jim said. “When I met her at the door, she took me by the hand and said, ‘Will you sit with me?’ She started interviewing with me about what music I liked, and asking me what the plane would be like.”
To Jim’s delight, Monroe, who loves the music of Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder, sang for most of the flight — and even before she and her mother, Heaven, had boarded Jim’s plane.
“She knew every word, every verse,” Jim said. “About halfway through her first song, the employees in the fixed-base operator (FBO) turned and watched her, smiling. The other FBO customers started singing along. It warmed everyone’s heart.”
In exchange for the gift of her music, Jim and his wife, Shawna, gave Monroe a stuffed animal from their stash of toys at home. “Before we’d met Monroe, Shawna had said, ‘Do you think we should bring a gift?,’ Jim recalled. “And I said, ‘Bring one, and if it feels right, we’ll give it to her.’”
In light of Monroe’s impressive vocal display and gentle interview of Jim, there was no question pilot and passenger had quickly formed a special bond — and Jim says his stuffed toy soon found a compassionate new caretaker.
“Monroe named that toy ‘Mango,’ as soon as we’d put it in her arms,” Jim said. “She’s just a joyful little girl who has a lot to give.”
Want to make a difference to children like Monroe by flying them to their far-off care? Learn more about becoming a volunteer pilot by visiting angelflightwest.org/pilot-page.