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Hope Air volunteer pilot Patrick Remy has conducted over 75 medical transport flights (220 hours) in his Grumman American AA-5 Tiger. And as with all of Hope Air’s pilots, the cost of the flight is entirely out-of-pocket.
Since 1986, Hope Air (formerly Mission Air Transportation) has been on a “mission is to bridge the distance between home and hospital for those in need.” As a result, “more than 160,000 travel arrangements for patients, including all ages and medical needs,” have been donated.
The free flights are often a lifeline for those seeking emergency medical care. Without them, patients who live in remote areas of Canada are left to face the often-unmanageable expense of travel, incurred by the need for treatment at specialized medical centers.
In 2015, Remy was introduced to Hope Air and found himself rewarded by the ability to bridge the gap between patient and treatment while demonstrating a skill he once only dreamed of.
“[Similar to] many young boys back in the ’70s,” Remy grew up fantasizing about a future in the sky. But restrictions surrounding his need for glasses would keep his feet firmly planted on the ground. That is, until 2010. With updated regulations and his children now full-grown, Remy was ready; he obtained his private pilot’s license at the Aviation Academy of Saint-Hyacinthe.
“[Determined], I kept training and learning and became a commercial pilot in May 2014, and that licence gave me the right to train IFR (instrument flight rules) candidates, which I have done since then as a part-time hobby.”
He added: “My first [Hope Air] flight was to Manitoulin Island, [with] a mother and a young child, then back to Ottawa. Since then, I have flown close to 80 missions and met all kinds (and ages) of people with histories of their own. Sometimes the flights were silent, by choice or simply because customers were tired, and the sound of the engine and smooth skies were enough to put them to sleep,” he reflected.
But often, the flights are filled with laughter.
“Sometimes [it’s] blue skies and sometimes [it’s] a little more grey, but we always make security and comfort of the flight our main concern.”
He shared with Skies that the pandemic was the biggest hurdle he’s faced.
“We lost a customer who could not get her treatments on time. When she finally was allowed to travel, it turned out to be her last trip; the cancer had progressed too fast. The return flight was very emotional,” he shared.
“When you fly people many times, people [who are] sometimes fighting for their life, you develop a friendship. She was a real motivation for me. Saying goodbye at her destination airport was heartbreaking.”
Give Hope Wings
Over 20 dedicated pilots have signed up for this year’s fundraising expedition, known as Give Hope Wings, which will depart on June 6, 2022. According to Hope Air, “this year’s coast-to-coast expedition runs from Victoria to St. John’s and stops in many Hope Air patient communities along the way.”
“The expedition highlights the beauty and broad geographic expanse of this country and reminds us that for many people, distance and income can be significant barriers to equal care,” added chief hope officer Mark Rubinstein.
Eight-year-old GHW patient ambassador Vincent, and his mother, Nicole, have required transport every six to eight weeks since Vincent was two years old.
While soaking in the flight experience, “Vincent became Remy’s number one fan.” For many patients who require medical care that involves travel, the bleakness of the situation creates fear and uncertainty. Still, volunteer pilots like Remy provide so much more than a helping hand. Vincent’s mother, Nicole (a single mother of five), said her son began looking forward to flying with Remy.
“[He] would eagerly wave down Patrick at the airport and run toward him, excited to greet him,” she said. “Once on their flight, a curious Vincent would ask Patrick all his aviation questions, and then about half an hour into the flight, Vincent would fall asleep.”
In early spring, Hope Air announced the launch of two new programs, Hope Meals and Hope Rides. The additional support will offer “access to health care for low-income families including those living in poverty.”
The charity aims to relieve low-income families of the financial burdens created by the need for health care – specifically related to the expenses accrued during travel “to attend medical treatment and care at major Canadian hospitals.”
According to the non-profit, over 4 million Canadians currently live in poverty, “including 748,000 children. Access to specialized medical care and lifting oneself out of poverty are inextricably tied together.”
Hope Meals provides free meals through partnerships with hotels such as Holiday Inn (Vancouver Centre) and Chelsea Hotel (Toronto). Hope Rides uses Uber to provide airport transportation to and from the hospital.
“The expansion of our programs will provide families with efficient and stress-free comprehensive financial support, helping thousands of Canadians from across the country reach essential health and medical treatment and care,” said Rubinstein.
Flying for fun
Remy’s “biggest fan,” Vincent, will be waiting for him on June 23 as part of the cheering squad at Sept Iles. Vincent’s mother admits that her son is eager to join the expedition as Remy’s co-pilot – “to fly for fun instead of flying for treatment.”
And Remy shares that excitement. This reunion with Vincent, and the relationships he’s built with patients like him, are a highlight of the transport experience.
“Yes, I love flying,” said Remy. “But when that love of flying can also be a powerful relief for people who would otherwise have to travel by car for many hours — the time, the stress, the cost — well, you feel lucky to be healthy and have the life you have. I do.”
The 2022 expedition, running from June 6 to June 24, is aiming to raise $1 million “to fund 2,800 medical flights.” The “multi-aircraft series of flights consisting of two segments from Victoria to Toronto to St. John’s, Newfoundland” will finish at the COPA Convention in Montreal.
Since its inception, Give Hope Wings has raised $1.3 million, which has enabled it to provide “more than 5,290 Hope Air medical access flights to patients in financial need with free travel to medical care far from home.” As a result, the national charity has been recognized as one of Canada’s best charities by Maclean’s magazine, MoneySense’s Charity 100.
Opportunities to get involved in this year’s expedition include joining a squadron, flight school fundraising initiatives, general fundraisers, and even a chance to win a ride alongside an expedition captain.
For more information, visit Hope Air’s website.