Photo of an airplane on a runway

Beyond the Card: Flying High for a Cause

Portrait photo of Dr. William T. Beecroft“Compassion flights” are aptly named because their goal is to help people who genuinely need it. Maybe it’s someone who is medically unstable and needs a way to attend a funeral. Or, it could be a woman who needs to leave town immediately to get to a domestic violence shelter, a cancer patient who can’t sit in a car long enough to visit a specialty clinic, or a family of a sick baby that is unable to afford the price of a plane ticket to a children’s hospital. No matter the case, a compassion flight constitutes a dire need and pilots are the volunteers who most often step in to help.

Last year, Dr. William T. Beecroft, medical director of behavioral health for Blue Care Network, was introduced to a new patient. The patient was practically immobile and could not walk more than five steps without his legs being in pain. But there was hope: he had been invited to participate in a special study at Yale University where doctors were going to do an experimental process to try to regrow blood vessels. He just had to find a way get there.

That’s where compassion flights from Wings of Mercy East came in. Dr. Beecroft volunteered with the non-profit to fly him back and forth from Lansing, Mich. to New Haven, Conn. for an entire summer of treatments. The results were incredible. By the end of summer, the patient was able to walk a quarter-mile to the plane free of pain and without assistance.

Dr. Beecroft reflects, “I’ve been flying airplanes since I was seventeen—46 years ago. I’ve always loved flying for fun, but about 25 years ago I started looking for a way to use my pilot skills for the better, something that would be rewarding and also allow me to give back to the world. Compassion flights were the perfect answer.

I knew of a local group in the Lansing area called Volunteer Mercy Pilots; it covered the three counties around Lansing. Different hospitals in the three counties identified patients who needed to be transported to larger facilities like the Mayo or Cleveland Clinics. Eventually, that group merged with Wings of Mercy East, which took patients from all over the east side of Michigan.

The great thing about compassion flights through Wings of Mercy East is that there’s zero cost to the person who needs the transportation. It’s completely run on donations. The pilots volunteer their time, the plane gets donated, the gas gets donated—everyone uses their time off to make sure people in need get to where they need to go.

It’s easy for most of us to take for granted the idea that if we need to get somewhere, we can just go ourselves. Some people can’t do that, whether because they can’t afford it or their medical situation makes it difficult to fly on a commercial airplane. We open transportation up to everyone—regardless of their income—and make it a very comfortable and positive experience for patients and their families.”

Most patients find out about Wings of Mercy East through social workers at hospitals. If you’re interested in donating money or volunteering as a pilot, please visit www.wingseastmi.org/If you want to be considered for a compassion flight, contact Mrs. Dorothy Reed, recipient counselor.

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