By Jessica Hayes, Angel Flight West
Angel Flight West (AFW) coordinates thousands of flights each year to help patients reach medical treatment and for other compelling reasons. Read about how AFW and their partner Alaska Airlines made the Amputee Coalition National Conference a reality for Bernardo Barco and his wife Rocio by flying them from Seattle, WA to Palm Springs, CA.
After losing his right arm and left leg in a terrible motorcycle accident in 2018, Bernardo Barco reflects on what helped him survive that day and the weeks that followed. If not for the medical professionals who witnessed the crash stopping to give emergency care, Barco knows that things might have turned out differently. “It was the right people who rescued my life,” he says.
In addition to losing two limbs, Barco also had internal injuries to his stomach. “I was at high risk of dying any second,” he recalls. Yet, with an outstanding medical team at Harborview Medical Center, a supportive family, and his faith, Barco defeated the odds. Nearly four months later, he was sent home to continue the long recovery process.
Before being discharged from the hospital, Barco was introduced to the Harborview Amputee Support Group. The meetings were started in 1979 by a Registered Nurse, Dee Malchow, who was a below-the-knee amputee herself. She led the sessions every Tuesday, and the tradition has continued for the past 43 years, making it the longest-running amputee support group in the nation.
Today, Mark Goetcheus, Registered Nurse and Program Manager for Amputation Services at Harborview Medical Center, is the lead facilitator for the group. “The most powerful piece of the support group is how it helps people know they are not alone on this journey,” says Goetcheus. “How reassuring that is – to be in a room with other folks who have shared their experience. When someone has an amputation, they can feel alone. They now have a whole new community to help support them. It’s also inclusive of family, friends, and caregivers because they are part of the journey, too.”
It was through this group that Barco met Hugh Boyd, a fellow amputee who has been attending the sessions for 18 years. Boyd knows the power of the group and has even offered peer support for close to 300 patients who have recently lost a limb.
With the 2022 Amputee Coalition National Conference coming up in Palm Springs, CA, Boyd knew he needed to find a way for Bernardo and his wife to attend. “I had been to several Amputee Coalition Conferences and realized their value, especially for newer amputees and their family members,” says Hugh. “I heard of Angel Flight West 12 years ago from a member of the group who used AFW for medical appointments. So I reached out, and your amazing folks made this trip a reality (for Bernardo and his wife).”
Angel Flight West coordinates thousands of flights each year for patients to reach far-off medical treatment across 12 Western states. Volunteer pilots donate time and resources to help passengers reach treatment via small aircraft. In Bernardo’s case, AFW’s partner Alaska Airlines generously donated mileage to cover ticket costs for Bernardo and his wife to attend the conference. Learn more about the flights Angel Flight West provides at no cost to passengers.
When asked about the impact the experience had on him, Bernardo says, “It’s really hard to get over the amputation and depression. It’s an obstacle in life. Hearing from others, hearing their stories at the conference – it helped me so much. It opened doors so I can experience being around others and learn about the tools that can help me.”
Do you know someone else who needs help traveling for medical treatment? Angel Flight West serves Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai’i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. For more information, visit our website www.angelflightwest.org. To find a volunteer pilot organization in other regions, visit the Air Care Alliance website, https://www.aircarealliance.org.