Flight of Compassion

Every week FMS does a flight for Airborne Lifeline Foundation, taking a team of doctors out to village clinics throughout Botswana.  Last week Tammi from  Airborne Lifeline called Mark Spicer and inquired about chartering a small Cessna to take a patient from Gaborone to Maun.  When told how long the flight would take in a Cessna, Tammi said she didn’t think the patient could cope with a flight that long.  She then asked about chartering the King Air, a faster aircraft, but when Mark told her how much it would cost, she said it exceeded their budget.  When Mark told her that FMS would subsidize the flight, Tammi was elated.  Here is the story of that very special flight …

As told by Captain Matt Cressman:

Recently I was eating dinner with Jeff Burnham at a great Indian restaurant that we know and love.  He asked me if I could take a medical flight to Maun on his behalf the next morning as he wanted to catch up on some work in the office.  I was thrilled, as I had just returned from a visit to the States and had completed only one flight since coming back.  I was itching to fly some more!

I showed up the next morning to prepare the airplane, file flight plans, check weather, etc., and wait for the client.  This flight was unusual, as normally we are picking up patients from the Maun hospital and taking them to either the Francistown or Gaborone hospitals.  We never take patients to Maun.  My questions were answered when the client showed up, an American doctor who works for the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinic, a partnership between The Baylor College of Medicine and the government of Botswana.  (The Baylor Children’s Clinic also partners with Airborne Lifeline.)  This doctor explained that a 10-year-old boy with a tumor on his face had been sent to him from Maun for his expertise.  Unfortunately the tumor was beyond treatment, and there was nothing else medically that the doctor could do for him. 

But then the doctor got to thinking that maybe there was something else he could do – help get this boy back to Maun, where his mother and other family members are, to spend the last few days of his life.  He explained that they have a limited budget for Medivac flights, but that he could think of no better way to spend the money than to reconnect a son and his mother, even if only for a few more days, before he passes on.  The attending physician, who attends Mark Spicer’s church, later told Mark how much they appreciated FMS’s help with the cost of the flight.  It was a very emotional case for the medical staff, he said.

When I heard this doctor’s story, it set the tone for the rest of the flight.  It was a joyous occasion – there was reason to celebrate.  This young boy and his accompanying older sister were boarding an airplane to fly home and reconnect with their family!  They got in the plane and I helped them fasten their seatbelts (which seemed foreign to both of them!).  I briefed them quickly on the flight, handed them some juice and peanuts, and off we went.  I found out later that it was their first time in an airplane, and what a time it was!  It was one of those beautiful African clear blue sky days, where if it wasn’t for the curvature of the earth, you would feel like you could see forever!  The flight was very calm and uneventful, and every now and then I would just look back and give them a thumbs up to make sure they were okay.

Approximately an hour and a half later we landed in Maun.  It’s quite a long walk from the regular aircraft parking to the terminal, so I asked the ATC tower if I could park in front of the terminal for 20 minutes for a VIP drop-off.  Permission was granted once they made sure that no Air Botswana flights were coming in for the next hour!  We exited the airplane and I escorted them into the terminal where I got to meet their mom and some other relatives who were waiting for their arrival.  We talked for a little while and, as usual, there were other conversations happening in Setswana (so I couldn’t understand), followed by the usual laughs and giggles.  I just smiled at them and thanked them for being such great passengers, and then I bid farewell to two of the kindest, gentlest, most humble clients to ever charter a King Air!