For people who need medical care far from home, travel to get there can be a huge financial burden.
That's where Hope Air comes in. Hope Air is the only national charity arranging free flights to low-income patients that need to travel for medical care.
Since 1986, Hope Air has provided more than 130,000 flights to patients in need. The organization relies on financial donations, the support of commercial airlines and a dedicated group of volunteers to provide these critical services.
Alanna Scott, vice-president of development for Hope Air, said last year alone, the service provided more than 900 flights to people in Northern Ontario who were in need of medical services far away from home.
“We fly people for any medical reason, as long as they have an appointment already booked and their physician confirms they need to travel that far for that medical procedure,” Scott said.
Last year, Hope Air arranged for 111 flights from Greater Sudbury — 32 per cent of which were for cancer patients. Cancer is one of the main illnesses for which people utilize Hope Air. In fact, of the 12,854 flights provided last year, 24 per cent were for cancer patients, Scott said.
Flights are provided for diagnosis, treatment or follow-up care.
While the majority of the flights arranged through Hope Air are through commercial airlines, the charitable organization also has volunteer pilots who provide flights to patients who are comfortable flying on smaller aircraft. Those volunteer pilots provide between 200 and 300 flights per year, Scott said.
And it's not just a one-time deal – many people fly multiple times with Hope Air assistance, she said.
Timmins resident Rob Trahan, who was diagnosed with late stage prostate cancer four years ago, has had multiple flights paid for through Hope Air. He didn’t realize how living 700 kilometres from Toronto would make his life more difficult.
“I love to be outside paddling, hunting, fishing or taking pictures,” said Trahan in a press release provided by Hope Air. “I cherish being able to enjoy nature with my family but access to the specialized robotic treatment I needed would mean regular trips to Toronto, so for the first time the fact that we lived in this beautiful part of the world meant we were at a disadvantage.”
Driving the 10 hours back and forth to Toronto was difficult. Being the sole earner for his family of seven, he didn’t have the luxury of not working.
“I worried if we could afford it, whether the car travel would be hard on my health and recovery, whether we would have to sell our house and move,” said Trahan.
He said he learned about Hope Air while in the waiting room at Prince Margaret Hospital. He leafed through one of their pamphlets and it piqued his interest. Within three weeks, Trahan was flying to his appointments free of charge.
Trahan is in remission, and while his visits to Toronto are less frequent, he said he wants everyone to know about Hope Air.
Scott said public awareness is something they are working on.
“We're not as well known as we'd like to be, and we'd like to get the word out to people who might be in medical need, and who would like to access free travel,” Scott said. “A lot of people find out about us after they've travelled, so we'd like to reach them before they travel, so they don't have to worry about the financial cost of travelling for their health care needs.”
Furthermore, if a parent needs to accompany their child for their medical appointment, Hope Air will provide air fare for the parent. And, if a doctor says it's necessary for an adult patient to have an adult escort, then Hope Air will also cover the cost of that second person.
It costs, on average, $250 to fly a person to the medical care they need, Scott said. While the commercial airlines are generous with deals on flights, and volunteer pilots fly free of charge, the majority of the money comes from fundraising. As well, many people adopt flights in someone else's name as a charitable donation.
Want to find out more about Hope Air? Visit them online at hopeair.ca.