By Joe DeGweck
Have you ever had one of those moments in your life, where there seems to be an unknown mediating force that seems to intercede with destiny and change forever what you would believe might transpire? A moment where your fate seems to no longer be in your total control? I have!!!
I remember as a child, a young adolescent, on a March sun shining day; a friend and I decided to hop roofs while we waited for another friend to finish his chores. This was just another day of adventure that two 12-year-old boys might embark upon just to pass the time away.
We were standing on my friend’s upper back roof, which at that time was used as a patio for him and his family to enjoy. It was an older home on the city’s East side. It was a black top and cinder flat roof with about a three-foot wall of block surrounding its perimeter. There was patio furniture partially covered with the remaining snow of winter. There were puddles of water settled in the uneven surface of the roof and ice built up in the areas where the sun could not reach.
My friend and I approached the edge with the imprudent enthusiasm of a 12-year-old and quickly stood upon the caps that covered the block walls around its edge. We peered down at about a three-foot gap between this roof and the next and saw the alleyway about 30 feet down. A piece of cake, I’m sure I thought to myself, but then I paused just a moment to consider if I could return back, seeing the next roof was about 6 feet lower. As I paused, Phil jumped and with a smile on his face and a cheer of childhood passion in his voice, he disappeared through the roof.
The piercing sound of shattering glass rattled my brain. And then a tranquil stillness filled the air, which was anything but calming. I shouted, “Phil; Phil!!!” and I ran down the edge of the roof and shouted again, “Phil, are you OK?”
I then found myself peering through an empty hole into a dark abyss, my heart pounding, my mind confused, and I heard him answer. Not with a moan but in a startled yet laughable voice, Phil simply said, “Did you see that; where the ---- am I?”
Again I asked if he was OK and again he said yes but he thinks he cut his hands. He was sitting on some stairs but he didn’t know where. I quickly ran into my friend’s house and told his mother what had happened. We all ran next store and found the neighbor already discovered Phil sitting upon the top of a winding stairway that rose about twenty feet to a skylight; now shattered and dripping with snow and water onto my friend.
I was amazed!!! If I had jumped first, I would have missed that stairway and fallen twenty feet into whatever covered the cement floor of this cluttered unused warehouse. Phil was fine; didn’t even need stitches. And after cleaning up and some homemade first-aid, we were off to enjoy the few hours of daylight that the day had to offer. I never heard any more about that incident and never even considered who paid for and fixed the damage until I became an adult. As friends we would laugh about what happened but we didn’t stop jumping roofs; we were just a little more careful. Two years later I moved away, and those days of childhood wonder and dear friendships also disappeared, but were never forgotten. I still wonder what or who kept me from jumping that day? Why did I hesitate; it wasn’t my nature to be careful at that age. Was there an Angel watching over me?
I’m sure many of us have a similar tale or two that we can reflect upon, an occasion in our life which we cannot fully explain nor completely understand. But this article is not about the unknown. It is not about the intangible, but rather about the truly tangible. It is about the touchable gift of love and commitment we endow upon ourselves every day. It is about the substance in our lives, the relationships and the purpose of our being. It is about the compassion and dedication of pilots, the volunteer pilots of Angel Flight Northeast.
Angel Flight Northeast is a non-for-profit organization comprised of more than 800 volunteer pilots. It is one of the five chapters that comprise Angel Flight America. These pilots continue to serve their communities daily by providing free flights, in private aircraft, for patients and their families who are in need of specialized medical care. Since 1996, when three pilots decided to dedicate their service and join Angel Flight America, hundreds of people throughout the Northeast have been able to access lifesaving health care that otherwise would have not been available.
As advancements develop within the medical field of transplant science; and communication levels increase within the infrastructure of the medical community; there is now a greater level of opportunity for patients who need to access medical care; and Angel Flight Northeast is the instrument that makes these miracles possible.
These pilots have created a corridor in the sky that delivers hope to children and adults in need. Few people realize that there is only a three-hour window between the time when a transplant match is found and the actual transplant surgery can take place. It is virtually impossible for anyone to travel commercially or to drive to the transplant facility within that time frame.
Angel Flight can make it possible. This dedicated and benevolent group of concerned pilots also provides continued support for patients who need continued medical treatments at facilities outside their communities, such as the Shriner’s Hospital in Pennsylvania or the Cleveland Clinic.
Angel Flight Northeast also provides Compassion Flights to family members who need to visit their loved ones while they are hospitalized. Just recently Margie and Ray Hauser of Cheektowaga, whose son Michael was critically wounded while serving in Irag, were able to visit Michael at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. because of the ameliorate service provided by Angel Flight. There are also Ground Angels who provide ground transportation to and from the hospital and airports when possible.
Just last week I had the honor and privilege of being able to sit down and talk with one of the pilots from Angel Flight Northeast. This was Joe DeMarco, a concrete contractor from Orchard Park. Joe is impassioned with his dedication of being a pilot for Angel Flight. He has flown over 180 flights in the past three years.
He has become personally involved in the lives and families of his passengers and considers himself fortunate “to be able to help those who have been given a second chance at life.” His goal is to let as many people know about Angel Flight as possible. “It’s for real,” Joe exclaims. “It’s really free of charge, we’re not for hire.”
Joe loves flying and being a pilot for Angel Flight Northeast allows him to enjoy his pastime and also help others. Having flown more than 240 hours last year in his Cirrus SR-22 four-passenger plane, Joe is grateful for the support that he gets from his wife Diane and their son. “Angel Flight has significantly affected my life,” Joe explains.
Once he committed to an emergency flight while his mom was having heart surgery. His passenger told him, “If your mother’s heart is anything like yours, she’ll be fine”; and she was; and Joe thanks his mom for that, and so do we. Joe is also grateful for the friendships that he has with the five other pilots of Angel Flight Northeast that live in our Western New York Community. Together they share in a brotherhood of commitment and compassion for so many of our neighbors
There were far too many stories that Joe shared with me than I am able to share with you. But as I left, I left with a sense of hopefulness and the same enthusiasm that I remember as that 12-year-old boy perched upon an icy roof edge so many years ago. This was the real thing, not surreal. In an article from “Western New York Catholic Magazine”, the Hauser family simply stated about Joe DeMarco that “He’s my guardian angel.”
Joe left me with an awareness he seemed to possess. That he has not given but that he has received. That he is the beneficiary of friendships that might not have ever been formed, if not for Angel Flight Northeast. That what keeps Joe flying are the smiles and the laughter echoing endlessly within the cabin of his plane. The tears shared, and the hugs given, between the children and adults in need, their families and all the pilots of Angel Flight throughout the United States is the air beneath these Angels’ wings.
May God bless you and your families during this holiday season.
Angel flight Northeast can be contacted at www.angelflightne.org, or by calling Joe at (716) 400-1069. To request an angel flight, call 1-800-9980. Remember: there is always a need for pilots and there is always a way to serve.