Pilots Fly To Save Lives

Written by Amy Dee Stephens in the February 2020 Issue

Pilots delivering Blood

It’s no secret pilots love to fly. Now, a new program allows them to fly with purpose, delivering life-saving blood products to patients across Oklahoma and surrounding areas.

It started one night 18 months ago, when Carvin Brown was up in the middle of the night, driving blood to a patient in critical need. Carvin thought, “There’s got to be a faster way. Speed equals life.” He had an idea. He called Guthrie pilot Stanley Young, and asked him for help.

“I’ll meet you at the airport in fifteen minutes,” Stanley said. They loaded the blood products into Stanley’s plane and delivered within 30 minutes, instead of the three hours it would have taken to drive.

600 Deliveries and Counting

“We now have 35 pilots, both male and female, participating in Flight for Life. We need even more,” said Sundee Busby, volunteer director for the Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI).“We are a grassroot program, but we’ve completed nearly 600 deliveries. That’s saved us many road miles--but the bottom line is patients are getting help more quickly.”

“Pilots, I’ve learned, are always looking for a reason to fly and a chance to stay proficient,” Carvin said. “There’s a term among pilots called the Hundred-Dollar Hamburger. They fly to a place, eat lunch, and fly back. That’s a Hundred-Dollar Hamburger. But now, pilots can choose to fly with a purpose.” 

The program is very pilot-friendly. Participants can sign up to fly a scheduled delivery if they have time or they can be on-call for an unscheduled emergency mission. Not only do the pilots fly in Oklahoma, the OBI provides blood to Little Rock, Arkansas and Amarillo, Texas.

For pilot Stanley, it’s gratifying to help people in need. Three years ago, he learned about OBI’s need, and although he doesn’t fly every day, he flies often. He is met at the airport by an OBI van carrying boxes with the life-saving plasma and platelets. The boxes are loaded, and he takes off.

Meaningful Retirement

“I’m doing something worthwhile with my retirement years,” Stanley said. “I once flew an emergency supply to an expectant mother needing platelets. Although I don’t usually know who is getting the blood, I always know it’s helping somebody.”

Another pilot, Dean Sather, also understands the urgency of their mission. He can’t imagine being a parent with a sick child, waiting hours for a driver to arrive with blood and “hoping my kid makes it through the night.” That’s the reason he chooses to volunteer his time.

“Ask our pilots and they’ll tell you how great they feel about flying with blood products,” Sundee said, “They’ll tell you it’s much more gratifying than going for a Hundred-Dollar Hamburger.”

Visit www.obi.org/about-us/flights-for-life to learn more. 

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