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SPECIAL REPORT: Pilots for Patients Taking Medical Care to the Skies

High in the Louisiana skies is a group of pilots serving as the link between a patient and the care that could save their life.
MONROE -- High in the Louisiana skies is a group of pilots serving as the link between a patient and the care that could save their life.

"They refer to this as a ministry and it truly is. It's definitely been a gift to me and my family," said patient Amy Avant.

Since 2008, "Pilots for Patients" has flown mission after mission across the state and beyond, getting patients to any hospital they need, free of charge.

To really grasp the meaning behind the miles, you have to soar and see for yourself.

On this flight in January, it was business as usual for pilot and nonprofit director, Philip Thomas.

"We'll do a pre-takeoff checklist and when all thet checks out, we're ready to go," Thomas said.

It marked the 1,870th flight, taking Avant to her medical care.

"This will make number 12, I believe. I go just about every week," said Avant.

Avant's road has been rough.
    
Last year, she came off a two-year battle with stage three breast cancer only to be diagnosed with reoccurrent stage four breast cancer last October.

"My whole life stopped on a dime. I'm a mother of four, a nurse practitioner. I had everything going," she said.

Avant had only two options: Weekly chemotherapy or let the cancer take her.

"I've learned to conserve all my energy, which is about three, hour hours a day," she said.

Avant has to get to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, 336 miles and a five-hour car drive away, making her fight that much more difficult.

"I have several fractures in my back. I'm not able to make long car rides. You're looking at at least $300-$400 easily per week," she said.

"Pilots for Patients" had something to say about that.

"Why her, of all people, who's helping so many and then winds up with this particular catastrophic illness?" Thomas asked.

Avant received a flight to Houston, free of charge, over the Ouachita River and on, soaring 200 miles an hour.

"I haven't gotten a speeding ticket yet," Thomas joked over his headset, 6,000 feet in the air.

An hour-and-a-half later, the plane arrived at Ellington Airport in Houston, where the pilots hooked up with their street team, the "Ground Angels."

They were there to drive Avant to the hospital.

"I was really looking for something to do when I retired and I found out about this and it's really one of the most rewarding things I've ever done," "Ground Angel" Driver, Charles Gibson, said. "I've traveled a lot and I know it's really nice to have someone you know pick you up."

Avant knows she has a long road of weekly treatments ahead of her, but she rests better knowing she has help from above.

"I can't work this time at all and don't know when. I put my house up for sale," she said. "My whole life has changed and to be able to have this service just to, at least, take care of transportation, it's perfect."

"It just means so much knowing that it's nice that she's helped so many that we can help her," Thomas said.

With that, it was time to fly back to Monroe Regional Airport, where the pilots continue their work.
    
With a little help from the community, wherever illness strikes, they will keep on flying.

"One day, I guess, we'll be able to find those answers," said Thomas.

If you'd like to donate to "Pilots for Patients" and help keep their flights going, you can give to their PayPal account online at their website here.

You can also mail donations to:

Pilots for Patients
3127 Mercedes Dr.
Monroe, LA 71201

You can also aid Avant in her battle against cancer by clicking here.






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