Angel Flight Northeast founder, Reading resident and volunteer pilot, Larry Camerlin

Angel Flight Northeast founder, Reading resident and volunteer pilot, Larry Camerlin  (right) stands with 10-year old Daniel and his dad, Dan, Sr. In the organization's 17-year history, it's scheduled more than 60,000 flights and flown more than 10 million miles. Approximately 30 percent of the patients are children suffering from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, severe burns or crippling diseases.

Over the past six or so years, the economy has affected everyone from business owners to the average citizen to even entire communities. But the groups most affected have been non-profit organizations that depend entirely on outside money from donations and fundraising. One such group that has been hit hard is Angel Flight Northeast.

The non-profit organization’s mission is “to facilitate access to healthcare by arranging and providing free air transportation in private aircraft by volunteer pilots so that patients throughout the northeast can access life-saving medical care and clinical trials that is not readily available in their geographic area.”

Unfortunately, with rising healthcare costs and lowering salaries, AFN has never been more needed by people throughout New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Sadly, the same issues that affect patients in need of transportation have affected Angel Flight. Money is sparse and AFN is reaching out to people all throughout the northeast who can help. The organization is looking to raise $900,000 this year.

Founded by Reading resident Larry Camerlin in 1996, AFN has scheduled more than 60,000 flights, an average of 100 flights per week. They’ve provided 65,000 children and adults with free air transportation to medical care by both private aircraft and commercial airlines.

Angel Flight’s 1,000 volunteer pilots have flown nearly 10 million miles. Those pilots have flown patients to 189 different medical facilities in 33 states. Many of the patients are located in Massachusetts, from North Andover to Woburn to Watertown.

Approximately 30 percent of the patients are children suffering from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, severe burns or crippling diseases.

The group is completely non-profit and everything is donated – fuel, aircrafts, time – leaving zero cost to the patient or the family. This is why Angel Flight is in search of donations, because although it costs nothing for the patient(s) to fly, it costs the organization $300 to coordinate each flight. If AFN does 100 flights a week at $300 a flight, it’s easy to see how the cost can add up (more than $1.5M a year.).

Barbara Sica, Marketing and Communications coordinator, said the organization has been using cost-cutting measures to keep its budget manageable. Even still, with the number of people in need of help, a group like Angel Flight can only cut so much before it affects the patients and their families.

Due to many factors – rising healthcare costs, more deadly diseases and a weak economy – Angel Flight has seen the number of patients it serves rise. Sica said they get plenty of return customers. They never turn anyone away.

Many times, she noted, AFN will take people from Maine, Vermont or New Hampshire to Brigham & Women’s, Shriner’s, and Mass. General in Boston or other places like Lahey Health in Burlington.

Angel Flight runs two types of flights: emergency and non-emergency. Emergency flights are reserved for “persons who need to visit critically ill or injured family members or patients needing organ transplants and organ donations.” Non-emergency flights are for medically stable and ambulatory patients and their families.

Giving thanks

A number of patients have expressed their gratitude to Angel Flight:

Winnifred said, “I am so extremely grateful for these trips . . . You are literally saving lives by this amazing work.”

Joel and Tolkyn said about the volunteer pilots, “How could we ever forget you. Whenever we needed you, you were there with support and big smiles.”

Amy, the mother of a young girl helped by Angel Flight, said, “What you gave us was so much more than a flight to medical care. It gave (my daughter) something to smile about and brighten up her world. With all of the blood work, needles and biopsy's she has been through in the last two years, not to mention the countless number of doctor visits we make all through the year, it really gave her something special.”

Angel Flight has been fortunate to have sponsors such as Hasbro, Jet Blue, HP, Reading Co-op, Terrafugia, WBZ, and Cape Air just to name a few. The group also has donation options such as the Adopt-an-Angel Flight and Partners for Life programs.

With the Adopt-an-Angel Flight program, for every $300 you donate, you can adopt one flight up to 50 flights for $15,000. Thanks to those programs, Angel Flight recently helped a couple receive life-saving medical care during the birth of their child.

According to the Angel Flight NE website, “In November 2011, Colleen and Michael anxiously arrived at their ultrasound to meet their unborn child. A joyous event that is typically filled with happiness became one of uncertainty and despair. The ultrasound revealed their unborn child had a rare congenital heart condition involving four defects of the heart referred to as ‘Tetrology of Fallot.’

“Recommending they seek further consultation immediately, the couple turned to various teams of physicians receiving multiple options for the couple to consider. Colleen found an online support group where another parent recommended a renowned specialist at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in Stanford, CA. After multiple long-distance consultations, it was determined the couple would need to travel to California to await the arrival of their child so that specialized medical care was immediately available to the baby at birth. But how would they get there?

“After exploring various travel solutions, it became apparent the arrangements would be costly. Hearing the family’s situation, someone recommended Angel Flight. Immediately following the family’s first call, AFN coordinated free air transportation for the expectant parents to California on Jet Blue Airways so proper medical resources were available when their unborn child arrived.

“Born last March, Teagan has already endured more than most will in a life-time. Additional procedures are scheduled for her in June with more anticipated in the years to come. Angel Flight NE will be there for her and young parents as long as they need us.”

To donate to Angel Flight Northeast (or if you’re a prospective patient), visit the organization’s website at www.angelflightne.org or call 800-549-9980. You can also visit AFN on Facebook at www.facebook.com/angelflightnortheast.

Sica said anyone who needs help just has to call and ask. “We are here to serve anybody who needs our services,” Sica said.

Flights run any time – morning, noon and night.

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