LAUREL — A Laurel family had their world turned upside down last September when their 3-year-old son was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The Vollers were in between doctors and were having to receive chemo treatment for their son, Tristan, in Billings and procedures in Denver. Ashlee Voller explained that driving eight hours each way was hard on their family with a 3-year-old and 8-month-old in tow.
The family's social worker informed them about a nonprofit, Angel Flight West, that might be able to assist with travel. The nonprofit uses volunteer pilots to fly families in need of medical care to facilities around the country.
“We had that resource in our back pocket, so when we did need them, we were able to do the application process and quickly find that resource again," says Ashlee.
Ashlee says that in December, they were in between doctors and were having to travel from their home in Laurel to Denver frequently for Tristan's treatment.
“We had to do chemo in Billings on Sunday, and then travel down to Denver on Sunday. Get a procedure done in Denver on Monday, and then be back in Billings by Tuesday for a chemo shot,” Ashlee explains. "It’s a pretty long trip to try to keep the sanity of a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old, and two adults."
After attempting to make going back and forth between Montana and Colorado work, the Vollers decided to reach out to Angel Flight West, and they were blown away by their willingness to help.
Angel Flight West was founded in 1983 by a group of pilots wanting to do more with their talents. Since then, they have completed over 95,000 flights, averaging around 5,000 per year.
“They loved flying so much they wanted to fly for a reason other than pleasure," explains Angel Flight West Communications Manager Jessica Hale. "You know it’s fun to fly somewhere for lunch, but a lot of them just felt called to do something more with the gift and talent they were given."
The nonprofit organization operates on donations to make these flights happen. The pilots are all volunteers and donate their own time, planes, equipment, and fuel for the trips.
“Transportation is one of the leading barriers to healthcare, and it’s something people don't think about until it affects them," says Hale.
The organization is also partnered with companies like Alaska Airlines, which often donates miles to Angel Flight West.
But Hale says in order to continue to help those in need, they need more pilots to volunteer.
"We have come across people that haven’t been able to get those resources granted to them and needed it," says Ashlee. "So maybe we can find more opportunities for them as well.”
The Vollers are hoping to spread the word on this organization so more can get involved. The more volunteers Angel Flight West has, the more flights can be offered to those in need.
As for Tristan, Ashlee says that his treatment is going very well. He is currently in the maintenance/preventative stage of treatment and will finish chemotherapy in January 2023.
“They don’t know us and they’re willing to give their time, their fuel," Voller says. "It was the same pilot that picked them up in Laurel, took them all the way to Denver, and then the next day flew them all the way back. That was a lot of resources for them, so we’re just super thankful for the people who are out there giving, and we just ask them to keep doing what they’re doing because they’re changing a lot of lives.”
For more information on Angel Flight West, please click here.