“In the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, our hospital secured a COVID-19 testing facility that gave 24-hour turnaround times for results. The test specimen were flown by courier to the lab in Nashville, TN, Monday through Friday with no service on Saturdays and Sundays. Samples taken on Friday through Monday were all sent on Monday afternoon with results given on Tuesday. This created a 4-day wait for Friday samples. The wait times led to longer uncertainty for patients and caregivers and caused the hospital to use more PPE than necessary.
I suggested to our physician liaison to involve the general aviation community to fly the tests on the weekends. Having learned of the program Angel Flight through a friend who volunteered to fly patients to medical appointments, I suggested that the hospital contact Angel Flight to see if they could help. There are numerous branches of Angel Flight within the US. Angel Flight Soars in Atlanta was immediately on board. This allowed the hospital to access many generous aviators to move samples from Fayetteville, NC to Nashville, TN. Not only does Angel Flight have a network of aviators, it also connects pilots for the same mission allowing shorter flights with a handoff of the specimen, or patient for other missions. I was honored to be able to fly the initial flight from Fayetteville to Asheville, NC where I met another Angel Flight pilot who then finished the trip to Nashville. I was joined by another pilot, Tom Prewitt, as he is an experienced instrument pilot and there was concern that the weather would be a factor. As it turned out, the clouds parted just before we took off and the flight was very calm and pleasant.
I was fortunate to play a small part in this effort, demonstrating the importance of communicating and being innovative in solving problems presented by the pandemic. My sincerest appreciation is to Angel Flight for their coordination, and most of all to the many pilots across the country that volunteer their time and pay the expenses of travel for medical care of patients in need.”
Written by Dickson Schaefer, MD, FAAOS