PALS: Volunteer Pilots Helping Patients With Cancer Get the Care They Need

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PALS is helping Northeastern patients with cancer get the treatment they need.

The message came via Facebook during the Thanksgiving weekend and was addressed to Patient AirLift Services (PALS).

The message read, “In great NEED of a flight to LaGuardia airport in NY Sunday from Hampton Roads area of VA. He is scheduled to have his tumor removed at [Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center] due to it being so close to his aorta. My son HAS to have this surgery!”

Within hours, PALS had a volunteer pilot who owned a small private plane sign up to take the flight, and they were able to fly the young boy on Sunday so he was able to have his surgery. Since then, PALS has flown the boy and his family on numerous occasions for follow-up appointments and treatments.

This is just one example of the hundreds of patients that PALS has helped over the years. The main mission of PALS is to arrange free air transportation for individuals requiring medical diagnosis, treatment or follow-ups who cannot afford or are unable to fly commercially.

And it is not just the patients they help. According to Eileen Minogue, executive director of PALS, the organization also arranges volunteer flights for family members of patients to ensure patients have support when they are away from home for long periods of time. An example would be flying brothers or sisters to the patient to have a holiday meal or other celebration. PALS also assists military personnel and their families with free flights, through their PALS for Patriots Program, in which they provide morale-boosting trips to aid in the recovery and rehabilitation processes for our wounded veterans.

PALS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, headquartered in Farmingdale, New York, that brings together patients in need of transportation and volunteer pilots wanting to help. Through their network of volunteer pilots located throughout the Northeast, they are able to fill flights anywhere from Maine to North Carolina and as far west as Ohio.

How to qualify for PALS

In order to qualify for the assistance, there are a few requirements.

The three main requirements are that the patient is ambulatory, so that they can get in and out of a small plane, they live in the eastern region of the country, and that they have a financial or compelling need. As Minogue pointed out, the family does not have to be approaching bankruptcy to qualify, but if funds are available for commercial flights, then that is the preferred method.

Minogue also noted that the volunteer pilots donate their time, aircraft and expenses at great cost and PALS wants to limit the pilots’ commitment to those who truly need assistance. Regarding a ‘compelling need,’ Eileen said that one example is that some patients cannot fly on a commercial airline because they are immune compromised.

Below are all the requirements a patient needs to qualify to fly with PALS. The patient must:

- Have financial or compelling need. Our volunteer pilots donate their time, aircraft, and expenses at great cost. Please exhaust all other transport possibilities first.

- Reside in the Northeastern U.S. and be more than a two-hour car drive from treatment.

- Provide notice at least five business days prior to desired flight date. PALS occasionally arranges a flight on short notice, but only in special circumstances.

- Be medically stable to travel and not have a seizure disorder. Your physician or social worker must complete a medical release form.

- Be mobile. You must be able to sit upright in a standard aircraft seat, wear a standard seatbelt and get in and out of a plane with limited assistance.

- Children over the age of two must be restrained in a Department of Transportation approved aircraft seat or child restraint system.

- Be able to fly in a small aircraft. PALS pilots fly non-pressurized general aviation aircraft with limited seating and cargo space. Our planes cannot accommodate a stretcher and are not air ambulances.

- Be prepared for flight delays or cancellation. Ensure you can reschedule a medical appointment or have alternate transportation available, in case of flight cancellation due to weather, pilot need or other circumstances.

- Be responsible for your own medications.

- Not have a communicable disease.

- Provide supplemental oxygen and medical assistance, if required. Must be approved by the Department of Transportation.

- Sign a waiver and release of liability form and provide Photo identification.

Is it safe?

Only pilots that are well-experienced and available (have access to an aircraft) are allowed to fly for PALS. Most PALS pilots are flying as a hobby. If they can provide a service for a person in need, then the flight is just that much more enjoyable.

For more information about PALS, visit their website.