When Marshall resident Rudy Moreno was diagnosed with aggressive cancer in his stomach, he had to figure out how to access the treatment he needed.
The nonprofit organization Angel Flight South Central flew in to save him.
“It’s been truly a godsend and blessing to me. It takes the load off my family, a load off of me having to get a ride,” Moreno said. “I’m not working and it’s tough, but I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Angel Flight provides flights at no cost for patients who need to travel for treatments, said Shireen Pitassi, missions director of Dallas-based Angel Flight South Central. The organization relies on pilots who donate their time and fuel. Patients must be ambulatory and not in need of emergency care.
Jim Hurst, principal of Pegues Hurst Ford in Longview, has provided more than 240 Angel Flight missions.
Patients who need transportation for a medical treatment can visit www.angelflightsc.org and fill out a form, Hurst said. Once the arrangements are made the flight is posted to an online bulletin for pilots who can log on and select a flight they’re willing to provide.
Hurst flies for the South Central region which includes Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and part of Mississippi.
“So in my case I go on there and I’m thinking, ‘I’m not doing anything Saturday; I want to take a flight,’ so I go on the website and I go down to Saturday and I look at all the flights and I go, ‘Well a Hot Springs to Houston is one that’s in my area,’ so I click on it and Angel Flight e-mails me all the material — patient’s name, when they need to be there, when they need to return, how many people there will be. Sometimes a husband or wife or mother or father will come,” he said.
From there, Hurst gets in contact with the patient and final arrangements are made.
Once the plane lands, Ground Angels arrive to help transport the patient to and from the hospital for treatment.
Many patients need cancer treatment, Hurst said.
“I went into Longview Regional and they found a mass, and it turned out to be stage 4 cancer,” Moreno said. “It was an aggressive cancer. The oncologist saw me and they said they had a better facility in Dallas, so it sprung up on me in the last minute. Going to treatment is pretty aggressive. It’s an aggressive cancer so it needs aggressive treatment.”
Patients such as Moreno, who are in pain and who can get sick from chemotherapy treatments, would be uncomfortable in a car for a long drive to and from treatment.
“I have flown people that didn’t have a dime. I have flown doctors’ wives, people that had plenty of money, but it’s the convenience of being able to get to your appointment in a couple of hours as opposed to having to drive or try to get on an airline,” Hurst said. “It makes you realize how lucky you are because some of these people are real sick. I’ve had them throwing up all the way back because chemo makes them sick. I don’t have sick sacks. I carry those big garbage bags. It’s not their fault they’re just so ill.”
Angel Flight is not a one-time service. Patients who qualify can continue to use Angel Flight for multiple treatments. Angel Flight South Central has provided more than 32,000 flights since 1991. Similar organizations operate in other areas around the country.
Moreno began using Angel Flight for round four of his treatment, and then again for round five. Soon, he will take flight with the service again for round six.
“Angel Flight said as long as you need us we’ll be here, and that’s comforting because I thought it was just a one-time thing,” Moreno said. “They help a lot of people. They truly are angels at Angel Flight.”
For Hurst, helping people through Angel Flight is rewarding because he gets to see their healing process and follow their journey.
“The amount of money it costs me — I could give to the cancer society and it could do well, but what you do see is this really helps one person and they appreciate it and you can see what you gave or donated really affected someone,” Hurst said. “You get to know them pretty good.”