It used to take Mike Natishak, Sr., his wife Mary Alice, and their 9-year-old son Mike Jr., 6 hours to make the weekly drive from their home in Apalachin, NY, to Boston Children's Hospital. They had to stay over at a hotel to be at the hospital the next morning. So in addition to travel expenses, the Natishaks each lost 2 days of work.
The driving conditions were bad when they drove over the mountains in winter. Still, they had to make the drive. Mike Jr. had Wegener's granulomatosis and had recently received a new kidney, donated by his father. After the transplant, Mike Jr. needed weekly follow-up visits at the hospital, and the family couldn't afford to fly.
Then some pilots stepped in to give the Natishaks a lift to the hospital for the weekly visits, and things got a lot easier for the family. The pilots belonged to AirLifeLine, a national network of private pilots who volunteer their time, planes, fuel, and money to fly financially strapped patients to far off life-sustaining medical treatment. There are no charges to the patients.
Majority Have Cancer
AirLifeLine does not limit its services to a specific age group or diagnosis, but the majority of the patients have cancer. Some people have ridden with AirLifeLine once or twice a month for years; others just a few times.
Some of the pilots are commercial pilots; others are engineers, doctors, lawyers, or business people. They fly within their own geographical areas up to 900 nautical miles, although the average flight is usually between 250 and 300 miles.
Most of the appointments are scheduled, but they also fly stand-by missions, to carry patients quickly to distant hospitals when a donor organ becomes available or to transport the organ itself.