Too good to be true.
That's what skeptical health care providers said of Angel Flight when it was established in 1983. The organization uses pilots and their private planes to fly those in need of medical attention outside of their area at no cost.
One of their newest pilots is Summerlin resident Dr. Joseph Adashek, a high-risk pregnancy doctor at Desert Perinatal Associates. He, too, said the program was too good to be true.
"It seemed like the perfect thing for me because I love to fly, and I like to have a reason to fly, not just go somewhere and fly back ... so it's not 100 percent altruistic," he said. "It's totally fun. There are very few times it ever feels like work."
Adashek, who has been a doctor for 23 years, attained his private pilot's license in 2003 and bought a four-seat Cirrus SR22 plane in 2007. He keeps it at the North Las Vegas Airport.
Six months ago, he joined Angel Flight and began transporting people with medical needs free of charge to regional destinations. His first Angel Flight saw him picking up an intestine transplant patient, a young girl of about 13, from the Ronald Reagan University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center. He met the girl and her mother at the Santa Monica Airport and flew them to Central California.
"She didn't feel real well and slept most of the way, but they were real appreciative," he said.
Besides those traveling for medical treatments, Angel Flight also helps transport mentally challenged people, kidney transplant patients and other medically fragile children to summer camps. It also reunites siblings who have been separated by foster care.
Because most people do not have doctor appointments or undergo treatments on weekends when Adashek is available for Angel Flights, he does not usually fly patients. Instead, he transports people with other needs. In mid-June, for example, he flew Alyna Anderson, 13, from Pahrump to a weeklong burn camp in Yosemite National Park in California.
Alyna's father, Donely, said Angel Flight has flown her to Southern California many times in the past six years so she can be treated at the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
"I'm real thankful for Angel Flight, that's for sure," he said. "I can't say enough about the pilots and everything they've done."
Adashek shoulders the cost of the flight. The organization's website, angelflightwest.org, says that comes to about $400 per mission. That information did not factor in today's fuel prices. He said it's more like $800. Just keeping the airplane in top condition is a factor, as well.
"Every hour (in flight) adds an hour of maintenance," he said, adding that the cost was not something he begrudged, not when he knew he was helping another person.
Angel Flight stipulates that any patient 18 or younger must have a chaperone, someone who can assist the patient should a medical emergency arise in flight. Pilots need a buddy for the mission as well. Adashek said he likes having Eric Rasely, a pilot instructor, on board in case he runs into difficult weather.
"It's safer that way, in case something happens and you get into trouble," Adashek said.
In fact, some of his planned Angel Flights had to be canceled due to high winds. His little plane would have had rough going, he said, adding, "If it's 110 degrees out, when you fly commercial into Las Vegas, you know how bouncy it is. Imagine how a small plane handles that."
Pete Cranston is another Angel Flight pilot in Las Vegas. He uses his Cessna 182, a four-seat plane. Cranston is a retired American Airlines DC-10 pilot and now oversees the Southern Nevada Angel Flight program. He has transported as many as 600 people on charitable flights. The two dozen Southern Nevada Angel Flight pilots serve 12 to 15 missions a month, he estimated, with 90 percent being medically related. Most missions out of Las Vegas are no more than 350 miles. Sometimes a person needs to go farther, so a relay of Angel Flights is set up.
Cranston said Angel Flight was always looking for more private pilots, as fitting patients' schedules into members' availability is not always a perfect match.
That "too good to be true" obstacle is one of the things holding the organization back, Cranston said. The phone doesn't ring often.
"We need to generate missions," he said. "We have to go out there and beat the bushes to get people to use our services. It doesn't make any sense to go out and recruit 20 new pilots and then we all sit around looking at each other."
Meanwhile, Adashek is awaiting his next email giving a list of patients needing an Angel Flight. "It's the only time in my career I don't brag about being a doctor," he said. "They want their pilot to be a pilot."
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 387-2949.