When Robb Alpaugh walked into the office on his first day as CEO and President of Angel Flight’s parent organization, Mercy Medical Angels, the thing that struck him most was “the people on staff. They were excited and energized with passion for the mission,” he said.
June 15 was the date Robb joined the team to provide leadership, financial growth, and his own brand of passion arising from his experience as a volunteer pilot.
“These passions have been growing since I first joined Angel Flight in July 2007. I met a little girl and flew her to Victory Junction Camp. I realized then what a great service we were providing.
“From that time forward, my enthusiasm for Angel Flight and later, for the associated charities under the MMA banner, has only increased.”
Robb left a thriving business as a realtor in Northern Virginia to move to Virginia Beach. A native of New Jersey, he served for over 25 years in large and small technology companies in sales, sales and general management, and is skilled in start-up and rebuilding operations.
“I plan to grow charitable contributions to make it possible to stabilize continuing operations and hope to do it through social media, crowd sourcing, and telling our great story to a broad audience.”
Norman Johnson, chairman of the MMA board of directors, explains why Robb was selected for the job at the top: “We are thrilled to have Robb Alpaugh on board as MMA’s new CEO. He is absolutely the right person at the right time. He has extensive experience in our field as a volunteer Angel Flight pilot, he is a high achiever in the world of public relations, he is a man of committed faith, and to top it all off, he is a guy you just enjoy being around. I am confident he will lead us to the next higher level with our MMA mission!”
Robb wrote a heartwarming article, “Flying with a Purpose,” that was published in our pilots newsletter, Angel Flyer, in 2010. Besides describing his aviation history, it gives insight into the way in which helping people in need has changed his life. Read the article here.
By Sarah Payne, Intern, University of Virginia
“I’m more than a conqueror,” is one woman’s inspiring life motto after battling several severe medical conditions throughout most of her adult life.
For Tina, 39, from Virginia Beach, Virginia, her medical journey first started in 1993 when she began to experience the swelling of various body parts, symptoms many doctors wrote off as hay fever or allergies. It wasn’t until 2009 that she was properly diagnosed at John Hopkins Medical Center with Hereditary Angioedema (HAE), “a very rare and potentially life-threatening genetic condition.”
Unfortunately, her diagnoses did not end there. As a result of her HAE, in 2012 Tina began to show signs of Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder characterized by the overproduction of thyroid hormones. In addition, a small percentage of patients will develop Thyroid Eye Disease (TED), which affects tear production and vision. Sadly for Tina, she was part of this minority.
In May 2014, two years into local treatment for her Graves’ and TED, Tina began experiencing double vision, the second-to-last symptom before vision loss.
Not wanting to take any chances with her sight, Tina decided it was time to look into more specialized treatment. At the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, she found what she was looking for.
After driving herself to Michigan for several appointments and one major surgery—a trip of nearly 700 miles—the financial and physical burden of the trek started to take its toll. In addition, Tina’s doctors at U of M told her that the surgeries she needed to treat her TED required air transportation. Unable to afford plane tickets for both herself and her son Brandon, and with her next surgery scheduled in two weeks, Tina was scrambling for a solution.
Angel Flight a ‘Godsend’
Fortunately, she stumbled upon the Angel Flight website while researching affordable medical travel online. From there, the trip coordinator, MJ Sablan, quickly connected her and Brandon with a flight to Michigan for her first eye surgery.
Tina has now flown several flights with Angel Flight, and of her experience she exclaims, “It’s a godsend!” She also speaks highly of her pilots, especially John Billings. Upon their first meeting, Tina recalls how he “instantly gave me a hug” and made her and Brandon feel right at home, despite their nerves about flying in such a small plane.
Tina has not let her illnesses inhibit her, despite the many problems they have created. She graduated from Tidewater Community College in 2011 with flying colors, passing microbiology with an A! Not stopping there, she now plans to apply for nursing school after her final surgery this month. Tina’s perseverance in the wake of such challenges is inspiring. She credits her son as her source of inspiration, saying he is the one who “motivated me through all of this.”
After countless surgeries, Tina is now Graves’ free, and after this month her eyesight will be on the fast track to recovery–Tina truly is “more than a conqueror.”]]>
The flight is attracting media attention everywhere John and his co-pilot, Nevin Showman, go. Watch this excellent news segment from the NBC affiliate in Albemarle County, Virginia.]]>
GiveBackAmerica.com is an online shopping mall created to raise money for local and national charities. The concept is simple, every time you shop online from one of the participating retailers on GiveBackAmerica.com (ex. Target, Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot, Expedia, Staples); a percentage of each purchase goes to Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic. To begin raising money click here.]]>
It’s that way for many rare disease patients living far away from advanced medical facilities. Jamie, 35, resides in the small city of London in southeast Kentucky.
“I ran out of places to turn,” she says.
Growing up, she suffered from migraines and had unusual flexibility in her body. “I always thought it was normal to be so ‘bendy,’” she said, adding that family members were extremely flexible as well. “My grandfather could put his feet behind his head.” Over time, the headaches became worse, and by 2011, they had increased in frequency and severity. “I was eating Advil,” she said.
Then one day “I got a headache that didn’t go away.” Vertigo set in as well as other symptoms. “It just got worse and worse. I had to quit driving. I couldn’t walk without assistance. I stayed on the couch or on the bed.” She said she developed blurred and double vision and had to quit her job as an executive administrative assistant. “I went from working 50-60 hours a week and doing my own art business [Akari Studios] on the side” to producing only small art projects.” Jaime’s specialty was large stained glass pieces.
Desperate for answers, she went by car to Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee. Her husband, Paul, who is disabled, did the driving. “It was a very hard trip,” Jaime said. At Vanderbilt, she was diagnosed with a very rare connective tissue disorder known as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). She had an MRI, but the report indicated there was nothing wrong.
Soon after, Jaime was relieved to get an appointment with a leading authority on her disease, Dr. Fraser Henderson of the Metropolitan Neurosurgery Group in Lanham, Maryland. This time, Angel Flight provided the trip for her and Paul.
“Dr. Henderson walked in the room and looked at the MRI. In 60 seconds he said, ‘I see what’s wrong with you.’ My whole life changed at that moment.” Not only did he confirm the diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos, he also said she had Chiari Malformation and recommended brain surgery.
Once again, Angel Flight provided a trip for the procedure. This was in January of the current year. The five-hour surgery included decompression of Jaime’s brain stem, restoration of craniocervical fluid, and repairs as well as installation of a titanium plate and two titanium rods. “He said I had cranial cervical instability—the worst case he’d ever seen. He saved my life,” Jaime said.
Follow-up care, a second surgery, and additional treatment for other serious medical issues has meant more Angel Flights to Maryland. Jaime has taken five to date, with the possibility of another trip to see Dr. Henderson for a bulging disc. “The pilots have been so wonderful—every single one,” she said.
“I lean on my faith, my friends and family. I’m a firm believer in God.” She added that Paul, who has “never doubted me” through all the ups and downs of her illness, “is my hero.”
Here positive attitude and radiant smile are inspirational. As an advocate for EDS, Chiari Malformations, tethered cord syndrome, dysautonomia, and rare diseases in general, Jaime wants to raise awareness and support of these painful and complex conditions.
“We’re only here for a certain amount of time,” says this fearless Kentucky woman, and urges people to “make the most of your time.”
Another year has passed of extraordinary service performed by all our dedicated Angel Flight and Airlift Hope pilots in the mid-Atlantic region. We thank each one of you for your sacrifice and compassion toward those in need.
The results are in for the Pilots of the Year in their respective states. Congratulations to each of you for honors well deserved.
AFMA Pilot of the Year – John Billings
When nine-year-old Cassidy arrived for her Angel Flight to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, pilot John Billings was excited and waiting to greet her with a teddy bear. Although the flight was spontaneous, as she had to go for treatment unexpectedly when her blood counts were too low due to her illness, Angel Flight was responsive and ready to help her in any way they could.
“The pilot was working back and forth with me throughout the course of that day,” said Cassidy’s father, Kenneth. “They are always very quick to find flights, and we’ve had no problems finding flights and pilots.”
Cassidy was recently diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of cancer that begins in the bones. She is now five treatments in and has been a beneficiary of Angel Flight throughout. With Johns Hopkins being a four-and-a-half hour drive from the family’s hometown of Forest, Virginia, Angel Flight has helped them significantly with transportation for Cassidy’s treatments.
Kenneth and his wife Kimberly are grateful for the fact that from a young age, their daughter Cassidy was always very active and athletic. She quickly became involved in many activities at her church as well as sports such as karate, running, swimming, and cheering. It is because of her active lifestyle that they were able to catch the cancer quickly.
“Her knee began to bother her when running, so we took her to our pediatrician,” said Kenneth. When her doctor suspected ligament damage, she was sent to an orthopedic doctor for an MRI, and that was when they noticed some abnormalities. After later being sent to an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Virginia, Cassidy tested positive for osteosarcoma in her knee.
Luckily, the doctors were able to catch the cancer before it spread anywhere else. Although Cassidy has currently had to postpone her athletic activities because the cancer has weakened her knee, she continues to smile. She is described as a sweet, polite little girl with a beautiful smile who loves to be with friends and family.]]>
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!”]]>