All posts by Cheri Cimmarrusti

Spotlight on an Angel – Roberta V.

In my long tenure at AFW, I often meet passengers who I look forward to seeing at the Santa Monica office while they wait for their flight. One of these passengers is Roberta V. of Oakland, CA. Roberta has been flying with us since 2006 and has flown 168 missions. During that time, she has flown with 72 pilots–37 of those with pilot Victor Ninov!

Roberta has giant cell sarcoma, a non-malignant bone tumor. In her case, the tumor is in the sacrum, a bone at the base of the spine. While the tumor itself is not malignant, its growth can cause considerable pain and is known to metastasize to lung cancer. She was diagnosed in January of 2005, and at the time was living in Ventura. Roberta received radiation treatment and was seen by doctors at UCLA. Near the end of 2006 she decided to move to Oakland to be near more of her children. The doctor there referred her to Dr. Chua in Santa Monica for a clinical trial and they referred her to AFW. This solved her dilemma of getting to treatment once a month. She is part of a clinical trial provided through a charitable program by Amgen. The drug, Xgeva, is normally used to treat severe osteoporosis. At this point, they do not know enough about the drug to determine if and when she can ever stop taking it. For now, she will continue because if she stops and the tumor grows, she will not be eligible to return to the program. Roberta said that the most important thing about AFW is the confidence she has that she will get to this vital treatment every month.

Roberta cherishes the friendships she has made with pilots, Earth Angels and staff. She feels blessed to have the emotional support and genuine care and concern that she feels from all. I can say, from my heart, that she always brings a smile to my face when she walks in the door. Because of the ease of flying general aviation, Roberta is able to fly alone without help. At times, AFW flies her to either Lompoc or San Jose instead of home to Oakland so she can visit her kids and grandkids. This allows her cherished time with family that is very important to her.

Roberta and her daughter Mary Beth were guests at the Endeavor Awards. When I asked her how the evening was, her response was, “Oh my gosh! Each time something happened, I thought it couldn’t get any better. But the great things kept on coming right up to the USC marching band that concluded the evening.” She said she was on a three-day high following the event! Many thanks to our Board Member, Charlie Finkel, for sponsoring a table for Roberta and other of our passengers.

As I look back on the past eight years, I find I’m also blessed to have a friend like Roberta!

We Give Thanks for Many Things

Christian Lybbert flown by command pilot Dale Lamberton 9.24.13
Christian L. flown by command pilot Dale Lamberton 9.24.13

Christian L. was born a healthy little boy on February 28, 2013.  Once home though, his mom worried that his breathing seemed labored and his color wasn’t right–not like the other three babies she’d had.  She was told several times that if he was eating, he was fine. However, at his two-week check-up, Christian was whisked off to the emergency room after the doctors found his oxygen saturation extremely low.  Multiple tests revealed that Christian was suffering with heterotaxy–a disease so rare that it is diagnosed in only one out of every four million births. Babies born with this condition often have organs that are missing, deformed, reversed in their arrangement or misplaced. They diagnosed Christian with a severe heart condition, a missing spleen, multiple organs reversed in the body and duplicates of these. For example, his left lung was where a left lung should be, but was a duplicate of the right lung.

Christian needed very complicated open-heart surgery. While he has great cardiologists near home, the best pediatric cardiac surgeon on the west coast is at Stanford.  With limited resources and the inability to fly commercially due to his compromised immune system, the family would have been forced to drive from Yakima, WA to Palo Alto, CA–a long drive under the best of situations.

Mom, Aimee, was directed to Angel Flight Georgia, and then to AFW from a heterotaxy support page on Facebook.  With a number of challenges both pre- and post-surgery, AFW was able to transport the family.  While we can debate the merits of social media, there isn’t a more meaningful way to use it than the way this family has done. They are thrilled with AFW and Aimee’s Facebook post is the front page article, 10 Reasons We Love AFW. To find out more about Christian and his battle, see his Facebook page at “Christian’s Soldiers.”