(CBS4) – Dozens of families across the United States, specifically in Colorado, are able to get their loved ones to important medical treatments around the country thanks to a group of volunteers. AeroAngel, a nonprofit based in Colorado, takes patients to their appointments in different states free of charge thanks to donated time by local aircraft owners.
“We’re already getting more flights than we can fill,” said Mark Pestal, founder of AeroAngel.
Pestal told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas he noticed many children in the Colorado area need treatment for various issues that is only available out-of-state. By coordinating flights, Pestal gives families the ability to cut down on unnecessary issues associated with medical travel.
“We’re doing flights for kids that really need to get somewhere,” Pestal said. “They’re too sick, too medically fragile. So, they can’t fly safely on a commercial airline.”
Megan King, a resident of Edwards, Colorado, said her journey home from treatment in Arizona would’ve caused excruciating pain. The journey from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Edwards would take many people more than half of a day to complete. However, due to her spine being completely fused, a similar trip home could take King days.
“Traveling is hard,” King said. “I can’t sit for long periods of time.”
King’s extensive medical history started in high school.
“I jumped up to catch a football and landed wrong. It was a domino effect,” King said. “With that one fall, life changed on a dime.”
King’s ankle injury lead to issues with her knees, hips, shoulders and spine. She has undergone more than 36 surgeries since her initial injury, and her spine is completely fused.
“I was healthy, I was athletic. I played soccer,” King said. “I traded a life of athletics for a life of medical.”
Her surgeries and treatment have been hosted at hospitals from coast-to-coast.
“Medical travel is very different than traveling for vacation,” Karen King said.
Typically, her mother Karen drives with her across the country. They stop frequently, and are forced to live out of hotels for extended periods of time away from home. Each stop requires Karen King to load and unload medical supplies. The King family avoids flying as it requires extended time at the airport, security screening and keeping track of medical supplies among luggage.
However, the Kings said their lives changed when they heard of AeroAngel. Pestal, and aircraft owner Jon Berman, volunteered their time to fly to Scottsdale to bring King back home. The flight cut an extended drive down to a one hour commute home.
“This is the first flight we have done in Arizona,” Pestal said aboard Berman’s aircraft.
“It helps to prevent unnecessary suffering,” Megan King said.
Megan said her pain while riding in the car is commonly a 10-out-of-10. The flight helped her time in pain be cut down drastically.
“To have a total stranger be willing to offer to fly you from Point A to Point B, to get you back faster, it makes you cry a little bit. There’s a weight lifted,” Megan King said.
“It is life changing to travel this way,” Karen King said.
For Pestal and Berman, the service is their way of helping out families in need.
“It can mean the difference of accessing care or not,” Pestal said.
But for the Kings, the volunteers deserve a title fitting of the organization’s name.
“What they do to help people like me, and people in more situations, it’s just an amazing thing. I can’t thank them enough,” Megan King said. “They literally were, and are, that angel for me.”
If you would like to learn more about the AeroAngel program, or donate to their cause, visit aeroangel.org.