After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Eileen from Atwater, California realized just how far away she was from life-saving medical treatment. Before discovering Angel Flight West (AFW), she used to drive three hours to her appointments before making the long journey back home.
“By the time I would pull into the garage, I was so exhausted I couldn’t get out of bed,” Eileen says.
That all changed in 2016 when she heard about AFW from a fellow participant in a hospital therapy group. Seven years later, she has been gifted 414 angel flights to access her far-off cancer care at San Carlos Center.
For people across the western United States, especially for those living in rural areas, financial and geographic barriers can make accessing care difficult. Thanks to AFW’s network of volunteer pilots and drivers and commercial airline partners, more passengers like Eileen are overcoming transportation challenges to reach the care they need.
As a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization, AFW’s pilots fly people to their medical appointments at no cost to the passenger. AFW also provides transportation for families and individuals escaping domestic violence, therapeutic programs for children and veterans, and children’s specialty camps. On the ground, volunteer drivers ferry passengers to and from their departure and destination airports.
Volunteer pilot Chris Bennett has flown 604 missions since joining AFW in 2014, often meeting Eileen at her local airport to fly her to Merced for her appointments. Since 2016, the duo has taken to the skies together 295 times.
“It’s a privilege to be involved in her life,” Chris says. “And our paths may have never crossed if not for Angel Flight West.”
In turn, Eileen values flying with a pilot who truly cares. “Chris is someone who when he asks you how you are, he is not asking just to be asking. He is asking because he is really interested,” she says. “I thank my lucky stars that I discovered Angel Flight West.”
AFW provides air transportation within and across 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. This year, the organization celebrates 40 years of service and 100,000 missions flown.
For more information about Chris and Eileen, watch their story on YouTube.
Eileen and volunteer pilot Chris Bennett