2012-06-07 / Neighbors

‘Angel’ uses own plane to fly patients to appointments

By David Arenstam
Contributing Writer

Saco resident Ed Gallagher flies for Angel Flight Northeast Network. (David Arenstam photo) Saco resident Ed Gallagher flies for Angel Flight Northeast Network. (David Arenstam photo) The little 4-year-old boy had been in a Boston area hospital for a few weeks. He was deaf and his mother had taken him to the city from their home near Presque Isle to see if doctors would be able to successfully insert a Choclear Implant and restore his hearing.

The surgery was finished, his wounds were healing and it would be a few days before his hearing would be tested, but he was already excited beyond words. His mother arranged for a plane to pick them up in Lawrence, Mass., and the young patient was about to take a ride with an angel.

She contacted the Angel Flight Northeast Network and explained the situation to them. They posted the flight on their internal bulletin board and Ed Gallagher, a 56-yearold pilot from Saco, volunteered to pick them up and return them to Presque Isle.

“He was just so excited,” said Gallagher, as he thought about the trip. “He stood by the fence smiling and couldn’t wait to put on his headset.”

Gallagher said his implants were not yet functioning completely, but that didn’t lessen his enthusiasm.

Angel Flight Northeast is a 501 (3)(c) charity that provides transportation services to sick patients throughout New England and other northeast states. It has been flying for more than 15 years and Gallagher and his plane have flown at least 50 of those missions.

“I seem to get a lot of the flights to Presque Isle,” Gallagher said from his hanger at the Biddeford Airport.

“It’s pretty easy for me,” said the soft-spoken pilot. “I leave Biddeford a little after 4 p.m. and head to Lawrence. From there we fly to Presque Isle. I drop off my passenger and then head home.”

He usually arrives back by 11 p.m. or so, puts his plane in the hanger and is home before midnight.

The Angel Flight Northeast Network is dedicated to flying sick people to hospitals and treatment centers throughout the northeast so they may receive critical care. Some of the passengers are very young and have never been in an airplane and some have been flying most of their life.

Gallagher recently ferried an 80-year-old man, a veteran, from Lawrence, Mass., back to Maine after surgery to remove a tumor.

“I called him the day before to confirm everything,” Gallagher said. “I asked him if he minded flying – did he understand I was coming to pick him up in a small plane?”

Gallagher said the man laughed over the phone and in a thick Maine accident said, “I ain’t afraid of no planes.”

Somewhere in the skies over his home state, Gallagher learned that the man had been awarded a Purple Heart.

“I don’t pry or try to ask too many questions but sometimes they just like to talk,” he said of his passengers.

The pilots who fly donate their time, their planes and any other expenses associated with the flights. There is no cost to the patient.

According to Gallagher and the Angel Flight website, patients simply have to call and register with the agency and then request a flight. There also is no limit as to the number of times a patient may use the service.

In order to become an Angel Flight pilot, an individual need to apply and as part of the application process, both the person and their plane are screened by the agency.

Gallagher learned to fly at the Biddeford Airport and soon after he passed his commercial pilot exams, he considered flying for the agency.

“John Gary, my instructor, told me about them and I thought it would be a good idea,” Gallagher said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I have a somewhat flexible schedule.”

Gallagher, along with his sister, Mary, and his brother, Tom, own a commercial refrigeration business in Saco and with enough notice, he can arrange his schedule to include a flight.

As with any other type of routine, Gallagher said the flights have become a part of his life now and he is happy to be able to help people get home. The memories of some flights have stayed with him, he said.

He was assigned a flight from Lawrence, Mass., to Bangor and as always, he wanted to connect with the passenger before the flight.

“I don’t think she said more than three words when I called her,” he said. “And even then it was just yes and no.”

When he arrived at the airport, the woman who met him was about 21 and had some type of chronic lung disease. Gallagher said her breathing was labored and she was obviously not comfortable.

“She didn’t say much on the plane, but when we got on the ground she looked at me and said thanks,” Gallagher said.

As Gallagher sat quietly in his clean, sparse hanger, looking at the plane he uses for his night flights, he simply said, “some of them stay with you.”

For more information on the Angel Flight Northeast Network, visit http://www.angelflightne.org.

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