Angel Flight providing health services

Messenger photos by Whitney Wilson Coy
The view from 2,600 feet above downtown Columbus is a beautiful sight to see.

There are thousands of people across the country who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a life-saving donor organ.

When the call comes in to notify a recipient that a match is available, there is no guarantee that it will be in the same city, or even the same state. Within hours, that organ will become useless. What is a person to do?

This is where Angel Flight comes in. A non-profit organization made up of volunteers and hundreds of pilots across the country who dedicate their time, and their planes, to help these people get another chance at life.

Angel Flight will arrange free air transportation to people who are in a time-critical, non-emergency situation due to their medical condition.

They primarily serve patients needing surgery, chemotherapy, dialysis and other treatments. They have also flown blood for the Red Cross during emergency situations.

The organization receives no funding from the government and is primarily supported by the pilots who volunteer. Not only do they fly their own planes, but they also pay all operating costs out of their own pockets.

In order to volunteer, pilots must have a current private pilot certificate and be proficient in whatever plane they fly. They must also be an instrument rated pilot, meaning they are able to fly in the clouds.

Jerry Ziglar, a Westside resident, has been a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight for just under two years.

Jerry Ziglar, a local pilot, stands next to his plane, a "Piper" Cherokee 180. Ziglar volunteers for a national organization called Angel Flight, which provides free air transportation to those needing immediate medical attention.

Ziglar learned to fly in 1978 after a former boss advised him, "If you have a goal, put it on a postcard."

Ziglar wrote down his wish to fly and put the postcard where he would see it everyday. When his goal date rolled around, he took his first flying lesson.

Up until now, flying had been merely a hobby for Ziglar, who retired from the Columbus Police Department in 1997. He has kept himself busy since then,however, with several part-time jobs.

"I have a firm belief that no one should retire until it’s time to die," said Ziglar.

While searching for ways to put his time to good use, he stumbled upon the Angel Flight Web site and decided that it was an opportunity that he could not pass up.

Ziglar, along with the other pilots in the organization, gets regular notifications of patients that have signed up for Angel Flight’s services.

Pilots sign up for as many trips as they like – usually those that will begin at a location near their home base.

According to Ziglar, trips for patients such as organ donors, which cannot be scheduled for a set time, require at least four or five pilots to sign up.

This way, when the patient notifies the organization that there is an organ waiting, volunteers begin to call each pilot on the list. If one can’t be reached, or would take too long to get there, the next pilot is contacted.

Angel Flight is a member of Air Care Alliance, a group of other organizations that provide similar services throughout the nation. By partnering up with other organizations, Angel Flight can provide services to a wider range of patients.

Ziglar, a modest man, refuses to take much credit for his service to the organization.

"It’s kind of selfish because I love to fly and it’s like getting two things at once."

Ziglar does acknowledge that his time spent volunteering is time well-spent.

"It’s like flying with a purpose, rather that just punching holes in the sky," he commented.

Many, however, would view someone as selfless and dedicated as Ziglar as nothing short of a hero.

When asked how it felt to be so instrumental in saving a life, his answer came easily.

"It’s always nice to get a hug in the end."

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