In church one Sunday, the young mother of an infant baby noticed there was something unusual about her baby girl’s eyes. She said she didn’t know what was wrong with the baby’s eyes, but she knew in her heart there was something wrong. The following morning she took the baby to her pediatrician who then consulted with a pediatric ophthalmologist.
The ophthalmologist determined the baby had cancer behind the retina in one of her eyes, and it would have to be removed. After a second opinion, the couple was told the cancer also existed in the other eye. The doctors told her, if there was anyone who could help it would be at the eye hospital in Philadelphia. Painfully poor, the family did not have the money to fly the desperately ill child to a hospital that just might be able to save the six month old baby. For a time it appeared the child could not get the treatment that might save her life. Then a doctor suggested to the couple they should try contacting Angel Flights for help.
The parents made a phone call that set into motion the dedicated folks at Angel Flights. Arrangements were made for a volunteer Angel Flight pilot, using his own plane, to pick up the little girl and her mother and father at an airport in Atlanta. That plane was met in North Carolina by two volunteer Angel Flight pilots from Tappahannock, Virginia who, flying their own plane, flew the young child to an airport near the children’s hospital in Philadelphia.
Ken Chatham and his son Ken Chatham II are two remarkable men who, on their own time and at their own expense, fly desperately ill patients to and from hospitals all over the southeast. By day the father and son team run The Driver Education School of Virginia with locations in Montross and Tappahannock, Virginia. (www.drivereducationschool.com). Ken II has landed at every public use airport in the state of Virginia. Ken II was an EMT for 8 years.
Angel Flights is a not for profit organization created by a group of volunteer pilots who have dedicated themselves to using their expertise as pilots and their own planes to help needy people with medical problems who need to be transported to a hospital in the region. Angel Flights sometimes is asked to deliver vitally needed blood products, but generally they fly patients in need of surgery or to a specialist for diagnosis. A typical flight may carry patients requiring surgery at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston or the Shriner Hospital in Galveston.
The first flight the Chathams ever flew involved a young man with a condition called primordial dwarfism. The patient was one of the hundred shortest people in the world. The condition was so rare that he had to travel a long distance to find a physician who specialized in his condition. The patient was picked up in Farmville, Virginia and flown to Atlanta, Georgia. Ken said he thoroughly enjoyed meeting the young man and being able to fly him to a specialist who could help with this devastating condition.
Ken Chatham fondly remembers a wonderful and lively young boy he transported three times. The young man has a rare condition called PANDAS. PANDAS is an acronym for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections, a rare disease that usually appears in children. Again the Chathams came to his aid by taking him to one of the very few specialists who worked with this very rare disease. Ken recalls he was a delightful young man with great energy and very excited about being in an airplane.
The Chathams, being part of the Angel Flight network serving the Tidewater area, may fly just one leg of a flight, for example from Virginia to the Shriner Hospital. The Angel Flights network is primarily supported by the pilots who donate their time and their planes to fly missions day or night. Donations are an important part of keeping the Angel Flights flying. Money donated by private individuals, corporations and social service organizations help to cover the costs of administering the program. There are no monies given to Angel Flights by any government entity. (www.angelflightsoars.org). If you would like to contribute your flying expertise, would like to send a check or book an Angel Flight, you may contact Angel Flight online (www.angelflightsoars.com) or by telephone at 1- 877-426-2643.
Ken Chatham credits his son with coming up with the idea of their both volunteering to be a part of the Angel Flight network using their own Cessna 182. Originally, Ken II trained to one day be an airline pilot and is qualified to fly some very large aircraft. Ken II started to learn how to fly as a young child. At about age nine, Ken II flew with his dad and learned to be a pilot at a very early age. In fact, Ken II told me when he first started flying with his dad he was too short to see over the top of the airplane’s dash, so he learned how to fly on instruments before he really could see over the dash. Normally, a pilot will learn visual flying then learn how to fly using instrument. There is no minimum age to fly supervised, but you need to be 16 years old to solo. Ken II was eager to solo on his sixteenth birthday and got his license soon after. At 31, he now holds a certificate to work as an airline transport pilot.
There is a great bond between the father and son team. They are able to almost finish each other’s sentences and revel in the wonderful experiences they have had flying Angel Flights together. The obvious admiration, respect and love they hold for each other is quite evident and a joy to experience.
Ken II told me about a recent flight where they both taught at the Driving School until about 10:00 PM that night, then rolled out their plane and took off to pick up a patient in Asheville, North Carolina at midnight. The pair then flew the patient to Norfolk, Virginia. By the time they got back to Tappahannock, the early morning rays of the sun filled the sky as the weary flying Samaritans reached home. The Chathams have accumulated a vast number of stories of the many Angel Flights on which they volunteered to help someone in need.
Ken senior told me about a six year old girl who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. There was a tear in his eye as he described how they flew into an airport in Greensboro, North Carolina and then flew the girl and her mom on the middle leg flight up to an airport close to a children’s hospital. Once the girl had been treated they flew the middle leg getting the girl back home again. Ken lamented the fact they are never told the outcome of a patients treatment. Having been EMTs they are both very aware of the HIPPA regulations that prevent the hospital or the doctors from providing any details about the medical history of any of their patients.
Both Ken Chatham Sr and Ken Chatham II are a very special people. They are ready to fly at a moment’s notice, day or night, to help a needy patient they have never met and do it at their own expense. When I asked about the expense, they both agreed that doing something for their fellow human being is by far enough of reward to justify their out of pocket expense. It was my privilege to meet and talk with these two modern day Angels who fly their missions of mercy on the metal wings of their own aircraft.