Pilots with Heart

There’s a space somewhere between business and leisure travel called medical travel. It’s a space you wish circumstances hadn’t conspired to teach you about.

This summer my brother had a very serious heart attack, and he was treated at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. It’s one of the best cardiac care centers in the universe. Trouble is, he lives in rural Maine, and ongoing visits to Brigham & Women’s are required every couple of weeks.

The only treatment for my brother’s severely damaged heart was to have a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD)¬†implanted in his abdomen. This device–which is about three inches long and looks like something you’d find in your garage–does the pumping for his heart. It attaches to large batteries and a computer outside his body. The follow-up hospital visits are essential to keep it tuned up.

That’s where the travel comes in. It’s a five-hour drive from his home in Maine to Boston. And he’s not allowed to drive for a year. That amounts to major family disruption and considerable expense every two weeks.

Enter PALS (Patient AirLift Services). A volunteer pilot picks him up at the Bangor Airport, and flies him to Logan. Often they pick up another patient en route (this week another VAD patient, last time a cancer patient), but the flight takes just an hour. They are deposited at the Signature Terminal (for private/corporate jets), and there is the huge benefit of no security checks. PALS even provides taxi vouchers.

This service has been a lifesaver, literally and figuratively, for my family. Pilots donate their time and aircraft, and the organization is further supported with grants and private donations. Other groups, such as Angel Flight, offer similar services. Traveling to superior medical care can mean the difference between life and death, and removing the stress and expense of getting there feels like a big hug. With every “wheels up,” we owe a huge debt of gratitude.