Income brackets mean nothing to cancer, but they mean everything to the sick who can’t pay for treatment. Sometimes treatment waits in other states, but is too far away for people to drive. Flights become necessary, and with flights come cost.
What happens when the expense of transportation prevents people from receiving life-saving medical treatment? Those in the central United States can contact Angel Flight Central (AFC).
Don Sumple, Angel Flight Central’s CEO, says it’s nothing short of miraculous.
“I think the nice thing about the organization is that it truly makes an impact in peoples’ lives,” he said. “There are people around today who wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the pilots of this organization getting them to their treatment facilities.”
Angel Flight Central is a nonprofit, Better Business Bureau-certified, 501(c)3 headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, that arranges charitable flights for people with healthcare needs. Its pilots have flown thousands of needy people for medical care over the organization’s 20-year existence.
The organization started in 1995 when pilot James Stevens Jr. met a family whose adopted 8-year-old son had a rare heart condition. Struggling financially, the family also had no health insurance. A surgeon in another state offered to perform a life-saving surgery on the little boy, but the family had no way to get him to the hospital. Stevens offered to transport them and the family’s gratitude inspired him to create a nonprofit to help others.
Since its inception 20 years ago, AFC has welcomed 600 pilot volunteers, flown over 8 million miles and transported more than 22,000 passengers, according to the organization’s website.
“We don’t put a cap on how often we’re going to fly somebody,” Sumple said. “If there’s a need, we’ll fly an individual as many times as they need to go.”
For instance, one man with pancreatic cancer found a clinical trial in another state, but couldn’t afford to fly for treatment every month. AFC stepped in and flew him to treatment — for five years. The trial extended his life by six to seven years, and he later ended up fundraising for AFC to help others.
AFC also works for humanitarian causes. During the Hurricane Katrina crisis, AFC pilots flew supplies and volunteers into New Orleans and survivors out. They had clearance to help during the 9/11 attacks in New York and also aided people during the mass flooding in Iowa in 2008.
AFC also unites military personnel with their families and flies people away from domestic violence situations.
Sumple says that last year the nonprofit also coordinated about 300 flights for special needs kids, children who have HIV/AIDS or cancer, burn victims, those with heart disease, etc. Often, free camps are available to children suffering from these ailments, but parents can’t afford to transport them. So AFC takes them there and back.
“It gives these kids an opportunity to be among other kids going through the same difficulties that they are, to get away and put their cares behind them, and to enjoy camp just like anybody else,” Sumple said.
Sumple says he not only loves what the organization does any given day, he also loves the second-hand consequences.
“Not only do we get people there, but they’re able to maintain a quality of life financially that if they had to go spend the money on transportation, they may not have anymore,” he said.
AFC relies entirely on volunteers and donations. The pilots who fly the planes all have regular, full-time jobs. Sumple says they’re truly heroes because of the amount of time they donate to helping others.
“These are people who love aviation, love flying,” he said. “It’s a way that they can take their love of aviation and flying and give to the community, and they absolutely go beyond the call of duty.”
AFC encourages donations. But helping to spread the word also is greatly appreciated.
“The big thing is to get the word out about our organization,” Sumple said. “Our No. 1 deal is that the people who need us know that we’re here. I think there’s a lot more people that we can help get to their medical treatment destinations or, in the case of the humanitarian issue, that don’t know that we’re here.”
Those living in the central United States who need long-distance transportation should contact AFC. Those living in other regions can check out AirCharityNetwork.com.