More than 200 friends of the Mercy Medical Airlift program gathered April 18 at the Army Navy Country Club outside of Washington to celebrate its 100,000th flight of a needy patient for medical care.
“Pilots use check lists and flight plans, but in 1972, when the program started, I could not find anything written on how to undertake a nationwide philanthropic program serving needy patients,” said Edward R. Boyle, MMA’s founding president and CEO.
“We’re here to give thanks to the Lord and celebrate the job so very well done in total safety by a whole cadre of volunteer pilots, office staff, individual supporters, airline sponsors, corporate donors, churches, civic clubs, philanthropic foundation donors—I thank all of you.”
Boyle said his experiences traveling in Vietnam as a troubleshooting civilian engineer inspired him to begin what he calls: “America’s charitable medical long distance transportation system.”
Traveling in Vietnam, Boyle said he was often hitching rides in the back of a C-130 or a C-123K filled with stretchers with troops injured in combat.
On many of those trips, the nurses asked him to help, he said. “There were never enough medical attendants, and the nurses onboard, without a doubt; decided I needed to go to work and not just sleep.”
Once exposed to the logistics of large-scale medical evacuation, Boyle said when he returned to America, he resumed his hobby as private pilot and on his own take on flying patients to medical treatment. “Mercy Medical Airlift began in a small way, that was more than 103,000 patients ago.”
More than 24,000 patients have flown on those “angel flights” since 1972.
Joining the supporters of the program were Rep. Stephen E. Stockman (R.-Texas) and Sen. Joseph Manchin III (D.-W.V.).
“Being a pilot myself, I wish I had the time and the opportunity to do what so many of my fellow pilots do,” the West Virginia senator said. “The way they have given back it just incredible.”
Two emotional testimonies gave the attendees an inside look into the work done by MMA.
Richard Norris suffered horrific injuries to his face in a 1997 gunshot accident. For 15 years, he lived as a hermit, only leaving his house at night and then wearing a mask to cover his disfigured visage. In 2007, Norris began five years of surgeries at the University of Maryland medical school in Baltimore that finally allowed him in 2012 to re-enter society.
Forty different pilots of the Mercy Medical Airlift program provided 98 flights to Norris between his home in southwest Virginia and his treatments in Baltimore.
Norris said to the audience he was grateful to the airlift for their help. “Your dedication has made my transplant a reality.”
Astrid Walschot-Stapp, who attended the evening with her three-year-old daughter Eliana were also gave a testimony—and a song.
Stapp said to the audience that her daughter’s extreme heart defect had completely frustrated the doctors in their native Poland. “When I heard the doctor’s talking about going back to the drawing board, and some soul-searching, I knew we couldn’t stay.”
Living with her daughter’s illness opened her eyes to the suffering of others, she said. “I realize now that everyone is vulnerable.”
It was a case of dual miracles that Stapp heard about a doctor at Stanford University, who could fix the defect and that she heard about the MMA program, she said.
“When everything seemed bleakest, I will never forget the words Mr. Boyer spoke when he told us he could help us,” she said. “He made us feel very, very cared for.”
As a tribute to the airlift program and its volunteers, Stapp, a professional harpist, said she composed a song called, “Angel’s Wings.” The title comes from the first words her daughter told her when she woke up after her operation about the angels she saw.
“She said: ‘They are huge, they are white and they held me.”
More information about the Mercy Medical Airlift is available at its website: medicalmercy.org.