Each year around this time, I tend to look back at my years here with AFW. As I pass the 24-year mark, memories of passengers past and present come to mind. But something that always makes me smile is thinking about those passengers who have been flying with us for many, many years. It is some of these folks who are the reason behind why we all care so much about what we do for AFW. That is true for staff and volunteers alike. It is with that in mind that I share with you some of the passengers who are truly old-timers!
Letting my mind wander I came up with five names of passengers who are flying today – who I remember flying for many years. Those five passengers have flown a total of 559 mission legs and those were flown by 258 different pilots! Numbers aren’t my “thing” – but those are pretty impressive, even to me! Read on, maybe you have flown one of these “angels”!
Our longest-running passenger is also our youngest one! Mariah S. from Big Sandy, MT started flying when she was just two years old, back in August of 2000. Twenty-one years ago, the prognosis for a small child with neuroblastoma was not great. Well, Mariah is here with us today – to prove that you CAN beat those odds! Still flying for follow-up appointments for some conditions that were caused by her treatment – Mariah has flown 135 mission legs with 45 AFW pilots.
Asima M., from Concord, CA travels to UCLA Medical Center for follow-up treatment following a small bowel transplant. Asima first flew in 2001 and since then has flown 132 missions with 67 pilots. Asima flew frequently in the early years following her transplant and was often accompanied by her son Harris – who, according to his last flight in AFIDS, weighed 70 pounds. Harris is 24 years old today and I’m guessing he’s put on a few pounds.
Caroline R. first flew with us in 2002 and then flew on and off for a number of years before starting to fly with us regularly in 2014. Caroline flew with 35 pilots on her 99 mission legs and was often with her husband James. They became a favorite of our Pacific Northwest pilots who flew her to Swedish Neuroscience Institute for treatment of a spinal cord issue. They were the speakers at an Oregon Wing event a number of years ago where they shared how vital the AFW pilots were to her journey. Note: Caroline just recently passed away and we send good wishes to her husband and family.
John M. is a name familiar to many of our Northern and Southern California pilots, starting to fly with us in 2003. We actually flew him to receive his kidney transplant in October of that year. Since that time, John has flown on 78 mission legs with 62 different pilots. John frequently sends the Mission Operations Team thank you notes and cards expressing how important Angel Flight West is to him. He travels from his home in Goleta, CA to the Stanford Medical Center and is a delight to fly!
And for those in the great state of Montana, many of you will recognize the name of Violet S. who has also been flying with us since 2003. Violet travels from Havre, MT to Salt Lake City to the Moran Eye Center for treatment of her progressive eye disease. Not only is Violet a favorite passenger of the Utah and Montana pilots, the Moran Eye Center is a valued partner of AFW. Our UT pilots, oftentimes with Utah pilot Mark Miller, will fly Moran doctors to Blanding, UT to provide much needed care to that underserved community. Violet has flown on 115 mission legs and has delighted 49 different pilots with her cheery personality.
What does all of this say? What does this mean to me? I think it’s just one way to share a snippet of the tens of thousands of AFW missions that have been flown since the day I first walked in that door in Santa Monica. I think it is a snapshot of the many, many lives that have passed through mine, and have impacted me in ways that are hard to describe. Starting out in 1997, as a twelve-hour per week assistant to the one mission coordinator—and traveling these oh-so-many miles—has been a blessing in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. And all of that is because of volunteers like you—willing to give yourself, your time, and your resources to better the lives of thousands of passengers like Mariah, Asima, Caroline, John and Violet. And for that—I say thank you!
Ciao – and Blue Skies