Angel Flight Is ‘Bright Spot’ in Woman’s Struggle with Disease

By Marie Vesely, Volunteer Correspondent It was like a day in heaven! On a bright sunny September day a small plane is soaring down the east coast from Virginia to Florida, staying low so it will be easier for the passenger to breathe with her oxygen supply. She has brought the pilots and co-pilot cookies in special boxes she made herself, but it is apparent the pilots are flying this woman and her husband for no other reward but the joy of caring. “[You] could see the compassion in their eyes,” she said. “It was like a day in heaven.” That is how Carol, of Newport News, described her Angel Flight trips last year from Virginia to Myrtle Beach and on to Jacksonville, Florida where she was to be seen in the Mayo Clinic. The flights are “the most incredible thing in my life next to giving birth.” (Carol’s daughter, Samantha, is now a sophomore in college.) It is an experience that Carol and her husband, David, who got to sit in the cockpit with the pilot on one leg, will never forget. For Carol, 51, Angel Flight services were the bright spot in an otherwise challenging 2012. Diagnosed at 30 with mixed connective tissue disease, she never knows exactly where her disease will strike next or what other associated conditions will surface.  Mixed connective tissue disease, a rare autoimmune condition, manifests itself with symptoms of several other diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It is generally characterized by swollen hands, muscle and joint pain, lung and breathing problems, fatigue and a feeling of being unwell. Carol says, “You never know what’s going to happen next,” and so she tries to live life as fully as she can. In May/June 2012 Carol’s oncologist –she is being followed because of markers for multiple myeloma — became concerned about her extremely low oxygen levels. She had been feeling particularly tired and out of breath with very low energy, symptoms common with mixed connective tissue disease. After a long summer on oxygen and steroids, she showed little improvement. A referral was made to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, which specializes in breathing problems.  However, the family felt they could not afford the flight. Through her sister-in-law, Carol learned about Angel Flight and “within a couple of minutes” of calling, was told yes, that transportation could be arranged. Carol is still humbled by the goodness and compassion of her volunteer angels, pilot Rob Barnhill with co-pilot, Jeremy and pilot, Todd Stief. “I could not believe there were people out there who were so wonderful!”

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