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Giving Back: Local patients fly high with pilot treatment option

RESERVE — Pilots for Patients took to the sky and landed at the Port of South Louisiana’s Regional Executive Airport in Reserve this month to present free air transportation opportunities to medical patients in the River Parishes.

The goal of Pilots for Patients is to eliminate the financial, medical or logistical burdens of travel for patients seeking treatment at distant medical facilities, according to Philip Thomas, president of Pilots for Patients.

Pilots for Patients President Philip Thomas speaks about the program in St. John the Baptist Parish.

The Monroe-based organization celebrates its 10th anniversary this winter and performs 15 to 30 missions a week for patients across Louisiana.

Over the past decade, Pilots for Patients volunteers have performed 3,867 missions for patients with 140 types of illnesses and have traveled more than 1.4 million miles, Thomas said.

Pilots for Patients volunteers and board members spoke to a crowd of more than 50 people Nov. 4 in St. John the Baptist Parish, including representatives from Ochsner Flight Team and local patients interested in hearing about the program.

Pamela Brady of LaPlace is anticipating many trips to and from Texas over the next year as her 5-year-old daughter, Penny Brady, undergoes an experimental drug trial for Rett Syndrome.

Perry’s Posse members Trudy Torres, Angie Robertson, Lynette Canales and Tanya Roccaforte attended the St. John Parish Pilots For Patients event.

“We are planning a lot of trips to Houston,” Brady said. “Having someone else fly us and cut the travel time so much will be a true blessing. They even have a partner program to transport people once they get out of state to get them to and from hotels and appointments.”

Members of local nonprofit Perry’s Posse were invited to the fly-in to learn how Pilots for Patients services can forward their mission of helping cancer patients of the River Parishes.

This Christmas, Perry’s Posse is including Pilots for Patients brochures in gift baskets to be given to 60 active cancer patients so they can become aware of transportation services offered to them, according to member Trudy Torres.

Thomas said Pilots for Patients came about after he had a series of dreams inspiring him to help people in greater Louisiana.

In his prior experience with Angel Flight and Houston Ground Angels transportation services, based in the Houston area, Thomas oversaw patients in Louisiana and seven other states, and he saw a need for additional services closer to home.

“The way I was raised, you always try to help your friends and neighbors in a bind,” Thomas said. “We’re all friends and neighbors across Louisiana; we’re just separated geographically, and airplanes are the common denominator that connect us.”

Pilots for Patients saw its first flight in the Monroe area on Jan. 14, 2008, and the nonprofit has expanded exponentially in the years since. Patients are eligible for transportation services as long as they have a note from their treatment center declaring them ambulatory, meaning they are capable of walking and able to climb into a small aircraft.

Thomas said the service is not intended for medical emergencies since the organization needs five days to process paperwork, but it is ideal for individuals needing to travel back and forth to hospitals for treatment.

Trips generally take between one and two hours, and patients are allowed to bring one other person and up to 50 pounds of luggage.

To request a flight, go online to pilotsforpatients.org to access paperwork or call 813-322-5112 to speak to coordinators.

Thomas said Pilots for Patients is always looking to expand services and collect funding to make it possible.

“We’re always after the three ‘P’s: new pilots, new patients and new patrons,” he said, noting financial contributions come from individuals, corporations and grants.

For every dollar spent by the organization, a patient realizes an $8 return on investment, and Pilots for Patients has given back more than $3 million in services, according to Joseph.

Port of South Louisiana Airport Director Vincent Caire, Foreign Trade Zone Manager Lisa Braud and Port Executive Director Paul Aucoin coordinated the Nov. 4 fly-in event. The Port of South Louisiana Executive Regional Airport (KAPS) is a business/ general aviation gateway that provides access to the River Parishes and boosts the economy by promoting local tax revenue.

Aucoin said he looks forward to continuing to work with Pilots for Patients.