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!
Linked here is Angel Flight West’s 2014 Spring Newsletter. Please take a look at all the exciting things happening at AFW to continue to better position us to help those we serve and enable us to help even more passengers in need.
Angel Flight West utilizes aviation to increase health care access in order to improve health outcomes for critically ill people living within its service area. AFW is focused on increasing requests for service, which have declined in recent years. A requester can be any individual working at a health care facility, including a doctor, nurse, or social worker. Through a survey, AFW sought to better understand social workers’ perceptions of our services and what would better increase their requests. A survey was administered to 1400 social workers and it returned at 17% response. Included in this post are some of our answers to the frequent survey comments and questions we received.
Q: Why does AFW need seven days to arrange a flight?
- AFW needs sufficient time to find an available volunteer pilot. Once we receive a request, the data is entered into our database system for pilots to view. It can take some time to find an available pilot on a given day as all AFW pilots are volunteers. Additionally, in most cases, we must find more than one pilot in order to cover both the trip to treatment and the return trip home.
- For longer trips, over 300 nautical miles, we must split the flight up into a multiple leg relay – it can take up to 3 pilots to travel 800-1000 miles. In these cases, AFW could potentially be looking for six available pilots to cover a patient’s roundtrip flights.
- Although it lowers the chances of covering flights, we are sometimes able to take shorter notice requests. We have been able to find available pilots on short notice in some cases. This is determined on a case by case basis based on the location of the flight, the number of pilots in that region, and the amount of available flights already scheduled in advance for that day.
Q: Why are you not a guaranteed service?
- General aviation (GA) aircraft are different from commercial airliners and much more limited by weather conditions. Thunderstorms, icing conditions, and high winds are all factors that can limit a GA pilot’s ability to fly. These decisions usually cannot be made until the day before or even the day of a flight.
- Because pilots are volunteers, there are some flights where we simply cannot find an available volunteer to fly on a given day.
- While we are not a 100% guaranteed service, we are proud to note that we only need to cancel 10% of our flights annually. Weather and pilot availability may impact the ability to successfully complete a flight, but we are working towards alternate transportation options to utilize when these things occur.
Q: It is difficult or impossible for my client to have a backup plan.
- We understand that sometimes we may be the only resource available to your client. We will work on a flight up until the afternoon prior if necessary. If your patient is able to reschedule, we are always willing to try again for the next week.
- We are also continuing to grow relationships with other transportation organizations to establish back-up plans as well as actively growing our pilot base to have increased pilot availability. We are sometimes able to book commercial airline tickets through Alaska Airlines or Hawaiian Airlines, or greyhound bus tickets. This is however, an option only available in special circumstances in limited locations.
Q: Why do I need to complete the paperwork and make the request? It is really my client that knows all of that information.
- All AFW pilots are volunteers, which means that they donate the fully cost of flying their aircraft. Because of their generosity, AFW staff is responsible for making sure flight requests are legitimate and fit within the AFW requirements. We require financial verification of need for assistance and confirmation that a passenger is ambulatory and physically able to fly safely on a non-pressurized aircraft.
- We can now take requests directly from passengers. In this case, we will take all of the information from the passenger and then seek medical and financial need verification from an official requester at a medical facility. We hope that this will streamline our process significantly and lessen the amount of time required for busy medical professionals.
Thank you again to all social workers who responded to this survey. We learned some very valuable information from you that will help AFW to improve our services and better the process for helping your patients!