Volunteer pilots pitch in during pandemic

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, general aviation pilots were called to duty to deliver life-saving blood stem cells to patients with blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma.

Officials with Be The Match, a non-profit organization that connects cancer patients with life-saving marrow or umbilical cord blood for transplants, usually fly commercially. But when the pandemic hit, Be A Match officials reached out to Air Care Alliance‘s vast network of volunteer pilots to continue the important mission of delivering blood stem cells.

But it turned out Be A Match needed help of another kind from the GA pilots.

That’s because volunteer couriers with Be A Match trying to deliver stem cells from Canada faced challenges getting back into the United States.

“While we initially thought there would be a great need to transport the blood stem cells itself, it turned out we needed help with a much different issue,” said Alex Zweig, Transportation Coordinator for Be The Match. “Flying into Canada was simple. But the Customs process and new restrictions for commercial flights made returning to the States problematic. We needed a solution to get these folks home safely and efficiently. Fortunately, we were able to tap into ACA’s network of volunteer pilots flying their own private aircraft to get the job done.”

Mark Hanson, a board member of Air Care Alliance and seasoned volunteer pilot, flew the first flight in his Eclipse 500.

The Be the Match courier catches a ride home in Mark Hanson’s Eclipe 500.

“Normally, I fly patients in need of medical care, so this flight was a little different,” said Hanson. “The international aspect added some complexity, but I was happy to be part of a solution to a problem general aviation could solve.”

Hanson has since lined up other volunteer pilots to help with similar flights throughout the next month. Angel Flight Soars, an ACA member organization, has taken on the coordination of the flights.

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