by Stephen Bobko-Hillenaar
When one flies a lot of Angel Flight missions and has been a member of Angel Flight West for a number of years, he or she comes across many varied missions. There are the burn victims that might be flown to a burn camp, or to a locale with a Shriner’s hospital. There’s the camper flown to cancer camp only to find the next year he is not joining you because he passed away. And there’s the compassion mission for flying a mother to be with her 10-week-old son who is awaiting a heart transplant – a repeat of what she went through seven years earlier with her daughter.
The list is long and varied. Sometimes you keep in touch with the family, most times not, which is unfortunate because each mission has a story. As Angel Flight Command Pilots, most of us have the good fortune to fly, and at the same time, experience relatively good health. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be flying. Angel Flight gives us a window into a world many of us would not see, the realities of medical care. Occasionally, a mission will come along that makes us particularly proud of having contributed to our passenger’s recovery. Aedan is just one such mission.
At 18 months, Aedan was diagnosed with leukemia. He first responded well to chemotherapy, but then had a relapse and his parents were told that he needed a bone marrow transplant. In fact, he was given a short time to live and the doctors needed to find a match. Searching near and far, a match came from Malaysia. The family was to find this out on Thanksgiving Day 2008. Living in Las Vegas, they had to get Aedan to University Medical Center Tucson, one of three places in the country that specialized in pediatric oncology. Packing up the car, Aedan, along with his father Mario, mother Audrey, and brother Kallen, drove from Las Vegas to Tucson. The procedure was successful. However, Aedan and his mother stayed in Tucson for several months as he recovered from the transplant. In 2009, when Aedan was six, he and his family members flew 30 missions with Angel Flight West as he was going through a bone marrow transplant.
Mario had to continue to work, but did not want to be away from his family. Angel Flight West first provided compassion missions for Mario and Kallen to come to Tucson to visit with Aedan and Audrey. As he gained strength and was able to go home, Angel Flight West provided the transportation for Aedan to go to his follow-up appointments turning a six-to-seven-hour drive into a two-hour flight. Aedan had just turned six and now, ten years later, he is in tenth grade taking honors classes and enjoying baseball on his high school’s Junior Varsity baseball team.
Joanna and I flew Aedan and his mother Audrey on their final Angel Flight mission as a follow-up to Aedan’s procedure. He is healthy now. Audrey recalls how Angel Flight West helped get Aedan to specialized care when he was immunocompromised, and remembers how they helped keep the family together going through this difficult time. In Audrey’s own words, “The whole organization is amazing and we’ve never forgotten that blessing.”
Over the years, I have used the following words to describe the reasons for flying missions: “Angel Flight gives us the opportunity to combine our love of flying with our passion for helping others in need.” Seeing where Aedan is ten years after we met him and his mother, and knowing that what we do has such an impact on a family’s life, brings all that much more meaning to our mission.