Thank you to the pilot angels of Orcas and San Juan | Guest column

by Karen Hiller

Orcas Island

When my husband and I moved to Orcas early in 1998, our dreams and plans, years in the making, were finally realized! We were soon dyed-in-the-wool islanders and have never looked back.

Our biggest bump in the road was when I developed a serious, chronic disease almost 13 years ago. However, I have been able to deal with it, while living the island life I chose.

Fast-forward to April 2 of this year when I received a diagnosis that every woman dreads: breast cancer. This led to surgery at the beginning of May and being told I needed a subsequent round of radiation therapy for five consecutive weeks, Monday through Friday. The logistics of this were OVERWHELMING, to say the least! Taking a ferry would entail a minimum of nine hours every day.

That prospect was absolutely daunting, but good friends offered a second abode they have in Lynden, and as grateful as I was for that option, my chronic condition requires special food and a special bed. Then my husband remembered reading about volunteer pilots who fly patients to the mainland for treatments: the Mercy Pilots of Orcas Island!

Not knowing whether I would be considered for this program, I decided to contact coordinator Audrey Wells, and to quote a famous cliche, the rest is history. Not only was I accepted, but as Audrey said, I was just what the program was created for: islanders needing help from other islanders to complete off-island, necessary medical treatments, with or without the ability to pay!

For me, this entailed 25 treatments over a five-week period, which ended on Aug. 20. Of those 25 treatments, I was transported by pilots 23 times (two days necessitated ferry travel, because of weather). Due to a shortage this year of Orcas volunteer pilots, Audrey spoke to pilots on San Juan, which has a similar program, and they agreed to fill the gap.

I need to thank the following heroes of mine. From Orcas: Audrey Wells, who coordinates the program and can be reached at 360-376-3201 and pilots Jack Becker, Rick Fant (and his pilot wife, Myrna), Pat Moffett and Bob Waunch. From Friday Harbor: pilots Jim Cox, Carlo Franciosi, John Geyman, Jim Sweet, and Darryl Swenson. ALL of these pilots were well experienced, efficient, caring and kind, and I LOVED the flying, which brought a great deal of joy to me, in this difficult time of my life! I will never forget their generosity and kindness.

I would also like to thank Kathleen, Francesca and Melanie of Bellingham AviationServices, who made sure I had a loaner car every day.

I want to encourage any experienced, friendly, charitable Orcas pilot to consider joining this incredible, much-needed program, and for everyone else on Orcas to consider donating what you can. Take it from me, you never know when you are going to need it!

Donations can be made to: Orcas Aviation Association, Mercy Flights, attn: Audrey Wells, P.O. 164, Eastsound, WA 98245.

Just another reason that I know we made the right choice almost 22 years ago when we decided to make Orcas our forever home. What other place on earth takes care of their own like this?