Aspiring Pilot: 5-year-old boy with mitochondrial disease dreams of flying again

Michael Schaffer* loves to fly even though he should probably hate it. It took this little boy more than two days to recover from the physical demands and stress of his first commercial flight, requiring him to sleep almost nonstop for 48 hours. An adorable five-year old with an angelic face, Michael has struggled with cerebral palsy since birth. His body is very sensitive to changes in his schedule and extended travel can be debilitating for him. His physician in Michigan also informed Michael's parents, Kristine and Anthony that their son suffers from a possible mitochondrial disease, which has resulted in a vision deficiency and leg muscle weakness necessitating the occasional use of a wheelchair.

Mitochondrial disease can range in severity from mild to fatal, and encompasses 40 different identified subsets of the disease, making it difficult to diagnose and treat effectively.

Michael's doctor referred him to a pediatric neurosurgeon at the Children's Hospital at The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio for evaluation and treatment, one of the preeminent care facilities in the country for mitochondrial research and care. Kristine was able to secure a spot for her son at the medical facility but was uncertain how to transport him the 440 miles from their home outside Grand Rapids, Michigan to the hospital in Cleveland. The nine-hour drive was not feasible and commercial air travel was impossible.

Kristine turned to Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance, to provide a medical transport for Michael to Ohio. Accompanied by a critical care flight nurse and paramedic, Michael, Kristine and Anthony boarded the air ambulance. Instead of being fearful, Michael was thrilled to be in an airplane again. His bright eyes sparkled behind his black-rimmed glasses as he listened to the pilot give pre-flight instructions.

"Michael was so excited. When the medical crew helped him out of his wheelchair and into the airplane, he had a huge smile on his face. The pilots and the medical crew were so wonderful to him. They were very patient and kind, putting Michael at ease and making him feel comfortable," said Kristine.

Without a required layover or the lengthy delays associated with commercial flights, Michael and his family landed safely at the Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland a short time later. The Angel MedFlight medical crew carefully monitored Michael’s condition throughout the flight and his body adjusted appropriately.  The trip made a lasting impression on the young boy.

"Now he wants to be a pilot. He talks about Angel MedFlight all of the time," explained Kristine. "He is truly an amazing kid. Despite everything that he has been through, he has a great love for life. You can see it in his smile and you can hear it in his laugh. We are very thankful to Angel MedFlight for taking such good care of him and for providing a great experience for him."

*Patient and family names have been changed to protect the patient's privacy.

"Everything for my husband's flight was wonderful. The Angel MedFlight medical crew was so nice and easy to work with. They kept my husband comfortable. They held his hand; it was great. The flight coordinator explained everything to me ahead of time. She told me what was going to happen and what to expect. I am afraid of flying but they made me feel comfortable. When we landed, the ambulance was right there and ready to go. Everything went well. I want to thank everyone at Angel MedFlight, they were fantastic."

Janet Hollis

Birmingham, Alabama

"...We are thrilled that everything has gone so well! We tremendously appreciate the care and support that everyone at Angel MedFlight has provided Betty leading up to this point . They helped keep her informed about her condition, which was so important to us, and as comfortable and healthy as possible while she waited for transplant. We thank them for their expertise and kind compassion."

Nancy F. (Patient's Mother)

Dallas, Texas

"My mother and I just wanted to thank Angel MedFlight for all of their help and consideration moving my father and mother to Texas. It could not have went any smoother just as they told me it would. My parents got here safely and dad is in the nursing home and I'm sure his progression will improve. Again, thanks Angel MedFlight for the tremendous effort. The crew was great with my parents."

Bob N. (Patient's Son)

San Antonio, Texas

"I read the testimonials on your website and was very impressed. I wish I would have found Angel MedFlight sooner, so we could have gotten my mother home right away. I was very impressed with Angel MedFlight. There were no time constraints. I could call in the middle of the night and they would answer. Also, the help we received from the Angel MedFlight staff really took the load off me and my dad so we could concentrate on my mother. Knowing that they were taking care of the insurance claim really made me rest easier at night."

Natalie J. (Patient's Daughter)

Wichita, Kansas

"Angel MedFlight is absolutely fantastic. Beyond fabulous. The pilot, paramedic, nurse -- all of them. It was the best flight I ever had in my life."

Kayla D.

Flown to US from vacation in Mexico