CLEVELAND — For those needing medical treatment at an out-of-state hospital, the added stress of securing transportation comes at an even greater cost as, in many cases, health insurance won't cover it. However, thanks to a non-profit that earned its wings a decade ago, those worries and added costs are being left on the tarmac.
Earlier this week, Brian Boucher, made his regular pilgrimage from his home state of Massachusetts to Cleveland to receive treatment as part of a clinical trial at Cleveland Clinic. This summer, doctors diagnosed Boucher with an aggressive brain tumor known as glioblastoma. Surgeons were able to remove the tumor from Boucher's brain.
However, Boucher needed additional, ongoing treatment to ensure the brain tumor doesn't come back. A new treatment is undergoing clinical trials at only a few hospitals in the country, including Cleveland Clinic.
"Cleveland was one of the only places I could come to get this clinical trial," Boucher said. "The clinical trial doesn't pay for the flights. That's all out of my pocket."
That's where the non-profit organization, Angel Flight,, stepped in. The organization, which has a network of pilots onboard, pairs patients needing medical transportation with pilots wanting to donate their time and aircraft. Lifelong pilot, Christopher Zant, helped to shuttle Boucher back home on Tuesday.
"Angel Flight is an organization that helps patients that need medical transportation get back and forth to their treatment without it becoming a burden as part of the cost of care," Zant said. "If you need to come to Cleveland Clinic, for example, we help patients get there by having pilots donate their airplanes and time to fly the patients back and forth to their home and treatment."
Zant, a board member at the organization, began donating his time and aircraft when the program started about a decade ago. What made the charitable approach different is what made it worthwhile, he said.
"It looked like a good way to give back that's different than just donating money or donating time. It's something I can do that not everybody can do," Zant said. “[Medical transportation] are the costs that aren't covered by your insurance company, right? When they say, 'sure, we'll cover you going to Cleveland Clinic,' and you live in Massachusetts, that's quite a burden if you have to be here weekly or monthly for treatment. We try to close that gap for our passengers.”
Boucher is eternally grateful for the service. In addition to the financial burden of continuously flying on a commercial aircraft, Boucher said many patients, including himself, have compromised immune systems, potentially increasing the risk of infection. That worry is even more pronounced because of the pandemic.
“It is outstanding. They are true angels in the air,” Boucher said. “I have enough to worry about with just trying to be healthy and take my medications. I worry about having seizures and I worry about having headaches come back. This is one less thing that I have to worry about. I have a debt of gratitude to all of them.”
For more information on the Angel Flight program and how to donate, you can visit the organization’s website here.