No Plane No Gain

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Businesspeople Fly for PALS

November 30, 2012

Hear a podcast that profiles Patient AirLift Services (PALS).

A diverse group of businesspeople in the Northeast depend on airplanes to support their enterprises, but they also regularly use their aircraft to help cancer patients and others in need of medical help. The grateful passengers, who often would otherwise be unable to reach treatment, think of their business flight donors as very special "PALS."

These businesspeople volunteer for Patient AirLift Services (PALS), a non-profit 501(c)(3) based in Farmingdale, NY. The organization coordinates mercy flights to far-away medical destinations, and volunteer pilots or aircraft owners pay the entire cost of each flight.

"I just flew a 16-year-old girl who had brain surgery," said Don Catalano, president of ReOptimizer of Long Island. "Through PALS, we were able to get her from Long Island to Toledo, OH in two-and-one-half hours, versus a 12-hour car drive that would have been arduous for this young lady."

Shawn Lyden, of Coastal Realty Capital in Maine, often uses his aircraft to support his business, which makes commercial loans throughout the Northeast, but said PALS flights can be the highlight of his week. Several years ago, he flew a young girl burned from head to toe to the Shriner's Hospital in Boston for skin grafts. As the little girl recovered and grew, additional flights enabled the girl to return to the hospital, where surgeons replaced grafts as she outgrew them. "I flew her a dozen times and by the fifth or sixth flight, we had a bond," said Lyden. "We became friends."

Ron Siegel, of Auto World Kia in East Meadow, NY, said his aircraft saves him a lot of time each year, but adds his PALS flights are the most rewarding. "The other day I flew a little boy, a heart transplant patient, and it was just great to see this little kid get better, smiling in the back seat," Siegel said.

"These businessmen and women and other volunteer pilots donate their own aircraft and time for people who need medical diagnosis, treatment or for other compassionate reasons," said Eileen Minogue, executive director of PALS. "They often say they get as much out of the flights as the patients."

PALS never charges patients for flights. "Patients often have limited financial resources or are receiving diagnosis, treatment or follow-up for acute or chronic illnesses," said Minogue. "Our volunteer pilots are extremely generous with their time, resources and talents to help those in need. Without them, PALS would not exist. They are the reason our slogan is 'Changing lives, one flight at a time.'"

"Those are the best days of my life, when I can give back using the skills God has given me with a PALS patient on board," said Catalano.