Kingston helps ‘Give Hope Wings’ for seriously ill patients

Private planes lined the tarmac at Norman Rogers Airport Friday, Jun. 9, 2023, to allow people to learn more about them and their mission with Hope Air. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Despite being grounded for part of their expedition due to forest fires, a small group of dedicated pilots landed in Kingston Friday, June 9, 2023, to help “Give Hope Wings.”

“Give Hope Wings” is an annual fundraising initiative by “Hope Air,” Canada’s only national charity which provides free travel and accommodations for Canadians in financial need, so they can access the medical care they are entitled to without the barrier of distance.

Give Hope Wings raises funds by giving donors the chance to fly with a dedicated group of Canadian pilots over various parts of Canada. For 2023, Give Hope Wings launched three unique expeditions focused on Western Canada, the Prairies, Ontario, and Eastern Canada. With stops in large metropolitan airports, Hope Air patient communities, and hallmark aviation communities, Give Hope Wings’ goal is to raise funds and awareness for Hope Air. Highlights of participant experiences included aerial views of some of Canada’s most unique aviation sights, connections to Hope Air patients along the way, and community events in both urban and rural settings.

To date, Give Hope Wings has raised over $1.8 million, providing 5,145 travel arrangements for those in need.

John Andrew is a Kingston-based pilot who has volunteered with Hope Air since 2017. He explained that flying medical patients is something he does to give back to the community.

“I’ve been very fortunate in three ways… my family and I are healthy, so we’ve never had to deal with any of the health challenges that are that our passengers have faced. Secondly, I’ve been very fortunate to have a special skill: I can fly an airplane,” Andrew shared. “And thirdly, I’ve been fortunate enough in my life and my career to own an airplane. And as small airplanes go, it’s a fairly large one. It’s six seats, and it’s very comfortable. And so it’s really well suited to our missions where we’re carrying patients.”

Often, seriously ill children are flying with family members supporting them, and Andrew’s plane has a bit of room to accommodate passengers.

“Our typical mission, most of the clients are coming from Northern Ontario and we’re usually flying them to Toronto… a mission I’ve flown many times is from Manitoulin Island. I can pick them up there and I can get them to Billy Bishop airport in Toronto, near the hospital that they’re going to, in about an hour and 15 minutes.” said Andrew.

With no commercial air service to Manitoulin Island, he explained, “At a minimum, patients and travel companions are going to have to drive about two and a half to three hours to Sudbury and pick up a commercial flight — which they may or may not be able to afford because the northern flights are all very expensive. Or if they’re driving the whole thing, or taking a bus, they’re looking at probably seven or eight hours on the road. And bear in mind that these people are ill.”

“So,” he continues, “For them to just hop on my plane and get to Toronto in an hour and 15 minutes is so much easier, rather than doing that long, long trip. And often, we’ll do it in one day: We’ll fly them down, they’ll go to an appointment or two at a hospital, and then we’ll fly them home the same day. It often means they’re home for dinner and they don’t even need to spend a night in a hotel.”

The event in Kingston took place despite the expedition being grounded Wednesday in Gatineau due to the forest fires in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.  Smoke prevented the leg of the journey which was to have gone to PEI. However, Andrew was happy to report that, despite the unprecedented weather, the pilots had decided to fly to Kingston for the local portion of the event, where they displayed their planes and spoke to guests about Hope Air. 

John Andrew (left) let Mayor Bryan Paterson check out his private plane. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Mayor Bryan Paterson was on hand at the Norman Rogers Airport to welcome the volunteers and guests.

“I have learned so much in just the last 15 to 20 minutes, talking with [the pilots] and others about what Hope Air is… And I have to tell you what an incredible story this organization is. I am so impressed. It’s just amazing and the lives that you are touching and helping with this organization — It’s amazing. It’s an incredible story to tell and I am delighted to join with you… all the best with such important work in the months and years ahead. And certainly, anything that we can do as a city to help support the great work you guys do, please let us know,” expressed the mayor.

Sylvio Roy, another volunteer pilot from Kingston, told the story of picking up a young woman in Northern Ontario to take her to London for an appointment, “She didn’t even have a car,” he pointed out, “And instead of an eight, nine-hour drive, it was a two-and-a-half hour flight.” 

He remembered, “She was very quiet in the back of the airplane. She was taking a few pictures. And then about half an hour before landing, I ask her how did she like the flight and tell her to make sure her seat belt is on and everything. And then very quietly on the intercom. She says, ‘I don’t know if I should say this but I don’t want this flight to end. This has been the best day of my life.”

The event let people get close to and even into private planes, like the seaplane shown here. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

“This is how Hope Air is able to change somebody’s life,” Roy concluded.

Give Hope Wings is a volunteer-led event in which pilots fly a small fleet of aircraft across towns; this year there are three expeditions – Eastern, Western and the Prairies – to raise funds and awareness for Hope Air. Give Hope Wings aims to raise funds with a goal of $600,000. You can learn more or make a donation on their website.

To find out about Hope Air, who qualifies for their services, or just to learn more stories from patients, pilots, and other partners, visit www.HopeAir.ca.

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