- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

A 41-year-old New Jersey woman recently was moved to a new home in Texas after losing her twins to miscarriage, both her arms and legs to infection and amputation, and her husband to divorce.

The tragedies that befell Yanping Wang, a former chemical engineer, began five years ago when she was exposed to a toxic substance at work. Mrs. Wang’s parents cared for her until they were no longer able to do so, and the decision was made to move her to a sister’s home in Houston.

Mrs. Wang waited 14 months for this “mercy mission,” which was provided by Mercy MedFlight (MMF), a charitable air-ambulance service based in Fort Worth, Texas, that flies needy patients long distances free of charge.

Neither Mrs. Wang nor her family could afford the $25,000 a regular air-ambulance flight from Newark to Houston would have cost, and medical insurance would not cover it.

But MMF, described as the “Good Samaritans of the Air,” came through, as it has done for more than 360 other needy people in the past decade.

The charity was started in 1993 by a small group in Dallas, led by Tom Landry, the now-deceased longtime coach of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Kenneth E. McAlear, a retired Air Force pilot, was recruited to lead the organization. Mr. McAlear sometimes flies the group’s only plane, a small twin-engine jet it acquired three years ago through a fund-raising campaign and a bank loan.

“Mercy MedFlight is the nation’s only charitable air-ambulance service, the only one that flies patients long distances at no charge,” he said.

Later this month, MMF will fly to Louisville, Ky., to pick up a 67-year-old Navy veteran and take him to a nursing home at Kalispell, Mont.

“He can’t walk, and he’s had strokes and heart attacks, and his sister and mother want him near them in Montana,” Mr. McAlear said.

Since its first flight on Feb. 5, 1996, MedFlight has transported 366 patients in 43 states.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had over 4,000 calls for help, including some from abroad. But we restrict our mission to calls for help in this country, and because of our finances, can only do one in 10 of those,” he said.

Providing no-cost flights to its clients is one of the most important parts of MMF’s mission.

“Most people in the United States don’t have air-ambulance insurance. I’d bet 98 percent of Americans don’t have it,” Mr. McAlear said.

He cited a case four years ago, when a 21-year-old man was hit by a car in Las Vegas and was left paralyzed and on a ventilator.

“His dad said a commercial air ambulance would have charged $35,000 to fly the young man home to Battle Creek, Mich. But Mercy MedFlight delivered him free,” Mr. McAlear said.

While MMF is an organization “based on Judeo-Christian values,” it does not discriminate in any way, he said.

“We take everyone on a first-come, first-serve basis. We’ve flown AIDS patients, babies, elderly people, and persons every color of the rainbow,” Mr. McAlear said.

Volunteer nurses, doctors, paramedics, respiratory therapists, pilots and mechanics make MMF’s work possible. Using days off from their normal careers, they donate their time and services to fly with the patients.

Fuel and airplane maintenance are the charity’s big costs, and Mr. McAlear said MMF often exists on a month-to-month basis. Fuel costs alone average more than $4,000 per trip, he said.

Two foundations in Texas have contributed about half of the maintenance expenses in recent years. But Mr. McAlear says he expects MMF’s maintenance to exceed $300,000 in the next few years as the group overhauls each of the transport jet’s engines, as required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Currently, Mr. McAlear said, 67 patients are on MMF’s waiting list. “But we have money to handle only two or three of them,” he said.

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