Senya – from her Mom Erica Smith
Our family is so thankful for Northwoods Airlifeline (NWALL). Our nine-year daughter, Senya, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) on October 9, 2022. NWALL and its incredible volunteer pilots, such as Eric Sibley and Jesse Bell, have been an integral part of our lives during Senya’s health challenge. These selfless pilots are heroes to our family as they have been transporting Senya from Marquette County to her medical appointments at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor for the past six months and counting.
The need to overcome time, distance, and inclement weather are challenges we face while living in the Upper Peninsula. For example, a typical appointment for Senya would require over 900 miles of travel, a hotel stay, and associated costs. However, due to generous monetary donations to NWALL and the commitment of their pilots, we can leave Marquette in the morning, allowing Senya to receive top medical service in Ann Arbor. Then we are reunited as a family in the evening that same day. Senya stated, “I’m grateful for my pilots, Eric and Jesse, because they have flown me from Marquette to my appointments in Ann Arbor. They are both kind and funny. I remember one day when Eric dressed up as one of my favorite Christmas movie characters, Buddy the Elf! Also, I like the view when we fly.”
Though living in the Upper Peninsula can pose travel-related difficulties related to Senya’s medical treatment, Northwoods Airlifeline eases the burden for our family. We are fortunate to have been blessed by the people of this incredible organization.
The Gibson Family
The amount of emotions, stress and financial hardship this brought upon our family was very extreme. First and utmost was getting Rylan the treatment he needed no matter what. The first few months my wife and I together where in the hospital with Rylan, and our sister and brother-in-law back home took care of our other 4 children. Once Rylan’s treatment became more scheduled, my wife and I we began to alternate back and forth who would stay with Rylan in the hospital and who would remain home with our other children.
The travel was a lot, over 1000 miles round trip driving. 10 hours in a car in all different types of Michigan weather. We were about 10 months into this journey when a nurse mentioned to us of a program that offered air transportation for patients who needed treatment for critical illnesses far from home. After some research we found Northwoods Air Lifeline, an amazing program based out of the upper peninsula that did just that. We contacted them and immediately we began to receive free flights directly from our airport to Ann Arbor for Rylan’s treatment. This program is filled with amazing pilots who donate their time to help families like ours.
Not only has this saved us a ton of money on vehicle expenses, gas and the stress of driving, it gives us much more time with Rylan and the rest of the family. Because of this we were able to have Rylan home for Christmas, and Easter! Words are not enough to thank all of those who are involved in this amazing program.
Rylan is currently doing very well and will need to continue to go to Ann Arbor for scans a few times a year. We plan to continue with this program during his future scans and appointments. And someday when we can, we hope to be able to donate towards this amazing program so they can continue to offer this service for years to come.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you Northwoods Air Lifeline for all you do and everything you have done to keep our family safe and together!!!
Love The Gibson Family
In November of 2017, I had knee replacement surgery in Toledo, Ohio. I had the surgery in Toledo because of the convenience to my mother. By the time the surgical date came my mother had passed so we also had to prepare to windup her estate.
When I was cleared by my surgeon in Ohio to return home to Iron Mountain, I was told that I would have to stop during the drive every hour and walk for 15 minutes. This meant that a normal 8-9 hour trip would take 2 days or more. As we prepared for this trip, our neighbor, Tom Sullivan, was aware of our situation and said that Air Lifeline might be able to help me make the trip in a matter of a couple hours.
After a couple of telephone conversations, a flight was arranged for Saturday, December, 2017. I was scared because it was snowing horribly in Toledo. But Dr. ……….. and Mr. Knudsen arrived, took a short break, helped me get into the plane, loaded my cat Pepper into the seat next to me and off we went. We arrived to no snow in Iron Mountain. I could not have asked for a more phenomenal trip home. My husband followed by car the next day. It was so nice to be able to go home weeks earlier and not have to endure a long stop and go car trip.
In December 2016 our son, Caleb, was diagnosed with Lymphoma. This news was such a shock because his only symptom was a persistent cough for a few weeks. We were rushed downstate to Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids The next year to follow was a total whirlwind from then on. A parent will never forget the high level of stress and emotion that was thrust upon us throughout the rigorous chemotherapy, side effects, and serious complications our child had to endure. Caleb’s only option for treatment was 7 hours away from home. He had to go to the hospital at least once a week for over a year.
It was only a couple days after Caleb’s diagnosis that someone told us about travel assistance via air through Northwoods Airlifeline. When I first heard of it I honestly thought it was way too good to be true. No way could we receive donated flights to and from our appointments. That would mean less time in the car with a sick child, more time for work, and more support from our friends and family back at home. I remember thinking that news was such a bright light cast on such an overwhelmingly dark situation. When I called Northwoods I quickly discovered it was true. They could help us make this situation so much more manageable.
What I learned from our experience with Northwoods was way beyond the quick 90 minute flights to and from our appointments. One wouldn’t think anything could be more important than not driving 7 hours through treacherous weather with a child who is extremely sick after chemotherapy. Not only was Airlifeline super easy to work with but every one of their pilots was an angel to us; especially to our boy. They did everything in their power to get us to and from our appointments even though frequently there were complications causing us to stay overnight in the hospital unexpectedly. This often resulted in them making multiple trips just for us. The even bigger impact I found was that our boy never smiled more than when he was on those flights. That was the best gift of all considering we would go days without seeing his precious smile because he was so sick.
Now Caleb only gets chemotherapy once a month. Thankfully we see his smile and hear his laughter multiple times a day. Not too many days go by that we don’t talk about our flights and the amazing pilots that helped pull us through that tough time. We definitely don’t miss those intense treatments but we do miss the friendships and amazing views we experienced! We have some of the best memories from those flights even though it was the hardest time of our life! We will never, ever forget and recommend Northwoods Airlifeline to anyone we hear can benefit from it!
Thank you Northwoods Airlifeline!
13 year old, Caleb Bell and his family
I was recently contacted by a representative of Northwoods Airlifeline. I was asked to provide a short message as to what Northwoods Airlifeline meant to me. This, for me, is a very difficult task. How would I ever be able to put into words the fact that Northwoods Airlifeline helped save my life? 9 Years ago, I was advised by doctors at the university of Michigan Hospital, that, due to a severe lung problem, that occurred shortly after birth, I had less than 1 year left to live. Fortunately I was a lifetime nonsmoker. My only hope would be to have a successful double lung transplant. At that point, I agreed to explore this option, and we put the wheels in motion. Of course the difficulty of this procedure would be heightened due to the fact that my residence is nearly 8 hours from Ann Arbor, Michigan. We selected the University of Michigan Hospital, as 3 specialists from other facilities, advised that, for my condition, the best doctors in the world were there. Normally, donated organs have an approximate 4 hour life. Thru the grace of god, and a lot of prayer, I received my transplant call, advising of available lungs on June 13, 2009. My flight plans were already “set in stone” as a result of the professional attention of Mr. Bruce Rutter, and associates. We left Ford Airport at noon on June 13th, under the watchful eyes of Mr. Tom Sullivan. We landed at Ann Arbor airport at 1:18 p.m.. I was driven to the hospital by my wife, sister and brother-in-law and as they say, “the rest is history”. I truly believe that, is it wasn’t for Northwoods Airlifeline, I would not be alive today. My hopes are that most, if not all, in our community, will choose to support this wonderful volunteer organization.
Thank you, Northwoods Airlifeline – you are a life saver!!! Nick Simone