Angels in Flight For Albertans
Living in rural areas of Alberta can be trying for those seeking specialized medical needs. And when one is faced with health concerns, organizing a trip away from home can become a multiple-factor challenge of its own – the cost, time away from family/work, etc.
A group of pilots have spent the past decade helping alleviate travel stress for rural patients by flying them on their health journeys through Angel Flight Alberta (AFA). AFA is a registered Canadian charitable organization which provides Albertans living in rural and remote areas with free air transportation to centralized medical facilities in Edmonton and Calgary.
Edmonton-based medical doctor and pilot Dr. Kerry Pawluski is the founding director of AFA, who launched the Angel Flight Alberta chapter in 2006 after learning about the organization established in British Columbia.
Based on his career experiences working in rural and urban communities in both Alberta and Manitoba, Pawluski understands the difficulties people face living at a distance from medical care first-hand. He also grew up in a family of aviation with both his father and brother as pilots.
“I was primed to ‘get it’ when an article about Angel Flight Vancouver Island (now known as Angel Flight BC) came out. It was about a dad who was taking his son from Vancouver Island for cancer care in Vancouver, and his experience before and after a friend offered him a flight. No more windy roads to Victoria. No more ferry transfers, and then a drive to Vancouver. Just one, easy, direct flight. That was in and around 1999. So, by 2001 the first Canadian ‘Angel Flight’ was born,” he said. “Hearing that story resonated with me.”
With a Pawluski family of co-founders and directors, the Angel Flight Alberta Society was ignited using the best practices from the British Columbia chapter. AFA has since had over 70 flights flown for a variety of medical procedures.
“People travel for many different reasons,” he explained. “They come to larger centers for diagnostic investigations, follow-up appointments and surgery. They are also being repatriated having had many of those types of visits.”
AFA predominantly flies in Alberta, but has flown patients from Edmonton to Pitt Meadows in Vancouver, Edmonton to Stoney Rapids on the Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories’ border, and Edmonton to Yorkton in Saskatchewan.
Pawluski said the experience of flying patients is most rewarding because it provides “a brief distraction for people – a temporary sense of wonderment – and eases the burden of life’s challenges.”
With 15 AFA volunteer pilots currently registered in Edmonton and Grande Prairie, Pawluski welcomes more to join the organization.
“We are definitely looking for more pilots from Northern Alberta to join our ranks,” he said. “It is much more efficient to have a pilot bring a patient from their own community and take them back after the appointment, than have someone fly up empty to do the return trip.”
Depending on the distance flown, and aircraft required, a single trip cost can vary from $300 to $1,000. According to Pawluski, a single engine aircraft burns fuel at an estimated $125/hr, while a twin engine can be double.
Pawluski advises rural residents to “continue to advocate your doctors to facilitate for you as patients. Sometimes all it takes is the doctor to pick up the phone to coordinate a test and a specialist appointment to be on the same day. Often, I simply advocate for these things and will save the patient an unnecessary trip. But if they won’t do it, don’t hesitate to ask me.”
If you are in need of medical air transport, Angel Flight Alberta can help by filling out a request form online at www.angelflight.ab.ca, by emailing email@example.com or calling 780-756-0086. For updated information and to follow AFA’s journeys, check out ‘Angel Flight Alberta’ on Facebook.
To make an online donation, visit www.canadahelps.org and search ‘Angel Flight Alberta Society’.
Cancer patient Tessa Booth, 2, and her mother Dawn, 33, were flown in private planes from Fort McMurray’s Executive Flight Centre to the Josephburg Airport located outside of Fort Saskatchewan on December 7, and back home on December 10. The free flights were provided by Angel Flight Alberta for Tessa to make it to one of her scheduled chemotherapy treatments at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton.
- Brothers Barton and Dr. Kerry Pawluski of Angel Flight Alberta with Tessa and Dawn Booth inside the hangar at the Josephburg Airport on December 10.
- Dr. Kerry Pawluski with Tessa and Dawn Booth at the Blatchford Field Medical Clinic in Edmonton on December 7.
- Dawn Booth with her daughter Tessa inside Dr. Kerry Pawluski’s private plane named ‘Big Bird’ on December 10. The local residents were flown home from Edmonton after Tessa’s hospital admission at the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
Learn more at www.angelflight.ab.ca.