Volunteer Pilots Help “Be The Match” During Coronavirus Pandemic

Volunteer Pilot, Mark Hanson, transporting Be the Match courier back home

This past March, Be The Match enlisted Air Care Alliance’s (ACA) vast network of volunteer pilot organizations to deliver life-saving blood stem cells to patients with blood cancers—like leukemia and lymphoma—nationwide. 

At that time, it was thought that a decrease in commercial flights and volunteer availability would disrupt distribution of the blood stem cells. ACA was able to quickly mobilize member organizations around the country that stand ready to help. However, a different problem emerged. Volunteer couriers delivering blood stem cells from Canada faced challenges getting into the United States. “While we initially thought there would be a great need to transport the blood stem cells itself, it turned out we needed help with a much different issue.” said Alex Zweig, Transportation Coordinator for Be The Match . “Flying into Canada was simple. But the Customs process and new restrictions for commercial flights made returning to the States problematic,” said Zweig. “We needed a solution to get these folks home safely and efficiently. 

Fortunately, we were able to tap into ACA’s network of volunteer pilots flying their own private aircraft to get the job done. “Mark Hanson, board member of Air Care Alliance and seasoned volunteer pilot flew the first flight in his Eclipse 500. “Normally, I fly patients in need of medical care so this flight was a little different,” said Hanson, “The international aspect added some complexity, but I was happy to be part of a solution to a problem general aviation could solve.

“Hanson has since lined up other volunteer pilots to help with similar flights throughout the next month. Angel Flight Soars, an ACA member organization, has taken on the coordination of the flights. Since the pandemic began, ACA members have responded by delivering medical supplies, PPE, test kits and other relief in this time of need. “It’s truly inspiring to see how these pilots and organizations respond to humanitarian needs,” said Kristinia Luke, Executive Director for Air Care Alliance. “It highlights the impact general aviation has on our communities and all the societal benefits it delivers.” 

NOTE: Be The Match is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), a nonprofit organization that matches patients with donors, educates health care professionals and conducts research through its research program, CIBMTR (Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research), so more lives can be saved. To learn more about the cure, visit BeTheMatch.org or call 1 (800) MARROW-2.


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