It is with a heavy heart we share that Angel Flight West passenger Chance Johnson passed away on June 24, 2022. Chance traveled with 24 Angel Flight West volunteer pilots over the course of 30 missions and touched countless other lives during his 16 years on Earth. Our hearts are with his family, friends, medical team, and volunteers mourning his loss.
Chance’s medical journey started when he was born with VACTERL Syndrome, a disorder affecting many parts of the body, including the heart and kidneys. While Chance’s childhood was packed with medical treatments and long car drives, it was also complete with family, love, and hope.
Chance’s health condition was only a small part of who he was. First and foremost, he was a loving child, son, brother, and uncle. Chance loved Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Super Mario Brothers. As an avid collector of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, it was fitting that the town of Red Bluff honored Chance’s memory with a drive-by car parade, organized by Chance’s sister Halley. “I didn’t count, but there were between 40 and 50 cars,” recalls Chance’s mother Tammy. “I was overwhelmed with the number of people and strangers who came out to show support for our family.”
Chance’s Angel Flight photos are filled with his loving mother and his trusted sidekick, Dora the Explorer. His Dora doll belonged to his sister and was one of the few possessions that survived when the family home in Paradise was destroyed in the 2018 Camp Fire. “Dora has been Chance’s security since we moved to Paradise, Calif. in 2009. She went to the hospital with him. She went through surgeries with him. Any time we went to the store or to a restaurant, Chance would take Dora with him.”
Halley honored her younger brother by freehand drawing Chance’s Celebration of Life program (pictured below) where Dora still stands by his side. “When she showed me a picture of it, I was just in tears,” says Tammy. “I never expected her to go above and beyond that far. I was amazed. I told Halley how proud I was of her. Chance would have loved it.”
Tammy and Chance started flying with Angel Flight West in 2019 after being introduced to our mission by a healthcare social worker. Before, the duo had to drive seven hours, three days a week, for Chance’s dialysis treatment at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto. After each visit, the mother-and-son team would travel back home to Eureka on the same day, so Chance could enjoy the comfort of his own bed. “That was part of my dedication to Chance,” says Tammy. “I wanted him to be comfortable.”
Tammy remembers her son’s sweetness during their many angel flights together. “He would always hold my hand during take-off,” she said. “He knew I didn’t like take-offs.” Although Tammy may have been hesitant to fly at first, it wasn’t long before she knew they were in safe hands with their trusted pilots. She fondly reflects on the compassion shown by volunteers during their many missions. “They often had water, snacks, and blankets for us,” says Tammy. “Chance would always fall asleep.”
Two days before Chance passed away, the pair took their last flights together with Command Pilots Dr. Michael Sherback and Paul Martin. Tammy recalls this trip, saying, “Command Pilot Paul even offered to take Chance camping for the first time. That touched my heart.” While reminiscing about all the volunteer pilots who gave her and her son the gift of flight, Tammy warmly says, “How do you thank somebody? I’m grateful. I’m very grateful.”
Tammy also expresses her gratitude for the Mission Operations Team at Angel Flight West who helped coordinate their flights. When weather or availability kept our pilots from the skies, Angel Flight West partner Contour Airlines generously provided tickets for Chance and Tammy on three separate occasions.
Of their time together, Command Pilot Paul Martin says, “Chance was a very warm and kind young man, who managed to smile and say ‘thank you for the flight’ despite the fact he was obviously tired and in discomfort from his treatment. He gave the driver that dropped them off at the terminal a nice hug. What a tragic loss for the family.”
We agree, Paul. We’re grateful to have had the opportunity to fly angel passenger Chance. Now, he is flying along beside us. We offer our deepest condolences to all who knew and loved him.