Imagine flying to your next doctor's appointment? It's pretty incredible to think about, and pilots like David McElroy of Hope Air do it every day for Canadians in need.
Many Canadians are facing serious health issues and getting the care they need isn’t as easy as you would expect. In fact, according to Hope Air, over 10 million Canadians live outside large city centres with limited access to health care. That’s where Hope Air flies in.
“Hope Air is an iconic Canadian charity, based here in Toronto, which provides free medical flights for less financially advantaged Canadians who live in rural areas or distant areas and have to get medical help far from home,” explains Give Hope Wings Chief Pilot, David McElroy.
(Chief Pilot, Give Hope Wings, David McElroy, Hope Air)
“If you live 20 miles north of Timmins, Ont., and you have a kid with cancer, you need 10 trips to [a] Toronto hospital for treatment, and you don't have a lot of money—you're going to have a really big problem. So Hope Air solves two problems for those people—the problem of distance and cost”
Thanks to Hope Air pilots, volunteers, and staff, more than 1,000 Canadians are able to be transported monthly to their medical appointments by flight, coast to coast. That's over 30 flights a day.
Hope air flying patients Mason and Erika (Provided)
But with precious cargo on board, how does weather and topography play a role in long distance transportation?
"Most Hope Air pilots are Instrument Rated, as I am, and we can fly in adverse weather but we don't fly in thunderstorms or icing," McElroy explains.
“In British Columbia where I'm from, of course the terrain is very different and the mountains bring on whole new dimensions," explained McElroy. "East of the Rockies, well all the parts are just dead flat, you don't have terrain to worry about but you do have cold and a total lack of airports. Flying in the far north, you're really on your own. And you better have the weather figured and you better have your fuel figured and the winds and what not. You know, it's great when it's 15 degrees and light winds are perfect.”
According to Hope Air, 27 per cent of Canadians would cancel their appointments because of lack of money, time, or transportation to get to them. Newfoundland resident Tammy Morrissey was faced with that stark reality in October of 2015.
“I was experiencing some issues with my vision. My doctor told me the tumor was behind my eye and that it was ocular melanoma… I didn't expect at 44-years-old to be diagnosed with a rare cancer and I certainly didn't expect for it not to be treated where I live,” said Morrissey.
Tammy Morrissey (Provided)
Morrissey’s daughter Emilee contacted Hope Air, and the following Monday, Morrissey’s flight was booked to seek treatment at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto.
“I'll have to travel there for the rest of my life. But I've been there 14 times and 14 times Hope Air has booked my flights, paid for my flights and sent my itinerary within hours. How much more thankful could you be.”
To support future flights in the sky and accommodations on the ground thereafter, Chief Pilot McElroy and his team are raising funds through their Give Hope Wings expedition.
Their goal is to raise $1,000,000 to fund 2,850 future flights for Canadians like Morrissey.
“Hope Air is affecting lives everyday. Over half of the people that Hope Air flies have either cancer or heart disease, and about 40% are kids. A lot of families are quite low income and very remote and they wouldn't have a chance without this. I mean flying is what I love to do. Flying for this great cause doesn't get any better than that,” said McElroy.
The Give Hope Wings expedition is a multi-aircraft series of flights consisting of two stages from Victoria, B.C., to Toronto, to St. John’s, NL, and ending at the COPA convention in Montreal in June 2022.