Angel Flight provides wings to those with medical needs
by By DELANEY WALKER Banner Staff Writer
Sep 10, 2012 | 2607 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Angel Flight
ANGEL FLIGHT is a widely respected, nonprofit organization offered by pilots in which people facing serious medical conditions that prevent long drives are flown to distant destinations. In the photograph at right, Cleveland pilot Bob Anderson, right, and his passenger Amanda Wood, a paramedic whose recent stroke left her with seizures, are all smiles as they prepare for a trip from Nashville to her hometown in Kentucky. Wood said she enjoys the personal connection with the pilot that is gained through the Angel Flight program. Sitting at Wood’s feet is her seizure dog, Medic.
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Flying with angels has never been easier. Unfortunately, the trip comes with a hefty price tag attached.

Just ask Amanda Wood. Wood is a paramedic who has been on six Angel Flights within the last year and a half. A head injury 12 years ago left her with poorly controlled seizures. Three years ago, Wood suffered a stroke during a seizure.

A Vagus Nerve Stimulator helps Wood stop her seizures in their tracks. Medic, Wood’s seizure dog, alerts her to an oncoming attack. According to Wood, the stimulator is a battery pack attached to the vagus nerve. The device sends electrical impulses up to her brain to prevent seizures.

“It’s a whole lot harder to be taken care of — you have to trust everyone else,” Wood said. “All of the sudden you go from being the caregiver to being the one being cared for.”

Wood’s stroke left her with almost incessant pain in her left leg, and she lost the ability to always have sensation in it. These conditions did not sit well with the born horsewoman. She could not compete in dressage with her horse at the level desired with an injured left side.

With dogged determination, Wood set off to find a doctor with an answer. It took her three years of “No’s” before she received a positive “Maybe.” The suggested doctor operated at Vanderbilt — 5 1/2 hours from Wood’s home in Kentucky.

“I cannot drive due to my epilepsy,” Wood said. “If I used a Greyhound bus, then I would be in the same position for long periods of time. Being in one position without stretching causes a lot of pain in my leg.”

Wood was referred to Angel Flight. This nonprofit charitable organization provided by pilots offers free transportation for people with medical needs.

“When you have so many medical problems, it is not nice to hear ‘No,’” Wood said. “When I was connected with Angel Flight, the first thing I heard was, ‘Yes.’”

Angel Flight has allowed Wood to make six trips to her doctor at Vanderbilt in Nashville. Through these visits, Wood’s doctor is determining whether or not she is a proper fit for a spinal cord stimulator.

The stimulator is battery powered and will place electrodes directly into Wood’s spine. The procedure should make it possible for Wood to once again have control of her leg. Wood would be the first person to have both a vagus and spinal cord stimulator.

Medical marvels are not nearly as astounding to Wood as the possibility of one day competing in dressage again. Wood has the horse. Together they have the talent. She has proven she has the drive.

“Before the possibility of this procedure there was just frustration, and now I have hope,” Wood said.

Now all Wood needs are several more flights by pilots like Cleveland’s own Bob Anderson. Anderson, a local consultant, is a trained pilot with more than 20 years’ flight experience under his belt. He has been offering Angel Flights since the early 1990s.

“I enjoy hauling the kids,” Anderson said. “They are mostly experienced veterans as they usually fly to and from checkups.”

Anderson figures he has given over a hundred Angel Flights. Gas money comes out of the pilot’s pocket or any organization backing the flights. Cleveland’s Sunrise Rotary Club has funded Anderson’s trips since the mid-90s.

Angel Flights allow Anderson to help others while gaining air time. He looks at home behind the control panel. Numerous switches, buttons, and gages line the instrument panel of his Cessna. Anderson delivers a smooth ride with ease born from years of practice.

“And Cleveland Hardwick traffic Cardinal 34148,” Anderson states into his communications unit. “That was a blind call. I don’t know if there is anybody out there or not, but that will let others around know we are about to take off.”

A checklist is used before each flight. Anderson makes sure his fuel tank is filled at each stop. In fact, he does not go any longer than three hours usually before a gas break. He is meticulous throughout each flight.

“I can see the weather before we get there and I can listen to the Automatic Terminal Information Service on the radio. ... They change that information every hour and they call it by an alphabetical letter they change every hour,” Anderson said.

Anderson explains various aspects of the Cessna. Information flows as readily from him as it does the ATIS.

“That device right there shows me NexRad radar which is the same radar you see when you turn on the TV and you go to the Weather Channel,” Anderson said. “That is 141 Doppler radar sites around the nation feeding into a computer in Atlanta, going up to a satellite and going back down to my instrument.”

The Cessna arrives in Nashville on time. Outside is a plane crash. Anderson stops to watch a crane maneuver the smaller vessel before he walks inside the lounge. Water bottles fill a small refrigerator. Anderson grabs one without taking any of the snacks above. Wood arrives 15 minutes later.

Both Wood and Anderson have the Angel Flight pilot-passenger system down pat. Anderson waits to take Wood’s lead on whether or not they will be speaking.

“I consider it quite a compliment when they sleep,” Anderson said. “It means they feel safe enough to take a rest and let me fly.”

Wood is very thankful for the flight.

“There have been different pilots every time,” Wood said. “All the pilots have been wonderful. They have been wonderful and respectful.”

Medic curls up next to Wood in the backseat. A headset allows Wood to communicate with Anderson. Wood looks completely at ease.

“I spent two years as a flight paramedic on a rotor wing [helicopter],” Wood said.

A “Whoa!,” escapes Anderson after Wood’s statement. The job apparently takes a lot of nerve, and according to Wood, rebellious tendencies do not hurt.

“My brothers are flight paramedics, as well,” Wood said. “I was the deviant one. I chose a heli over a regular plane.”

Both Wood and Anderson share a love for the quick flights.

“My favorite part is getting there really quick,” Anderson said. “It is 80 percent business and therefore important to get there quick.”

For years Anderson and his wife have chosen flying over driving for family visits and vacations. When Anderson worked in Alabama, he would commute daily from Cleveland via flying.

Wood and Anderson are veterans who can sit back and enjoy the flight without jitters. Whenever Wood speaks, Anderson listens attentively. Occasionally, he asks a question. Medic is asleep in the back, but shakes awake when the plane begans to descend.

Anderson helps Wood out of the plane before grabbing her bags from the trunk. The future holds several more Angel Flights for Wood. Anderson may not be Wood’s pilot again, but he is all ready for the next Angel Flight call.

The two part ways with a smile before Wood climbs into her mother’s car.

“This is the closest distance between home and hope for me,” Wood said. “It has been a wonderful experience.”