Chris Trahan flying sky-high with Pilots for Patients
Published 8:06 am Tuesday, January 10, 2023
Over the span of a decade, Christohper “Chris” Trahan, 71, volunteered his time, plane and piloting skills to complete 98 Pilots for Patients missions.
For him, along with the 130 active volunteers of Pilots for Patients, travel barriers are simply a challenge, and an easy one at that. Since the organization’s conception 15 years ago, Pilots for Patients, based in Monroe, has completed 6,808 patient flights and flown 2,513,476 nautical miles.
PFP is a 501(c) non-profit volunteer pilot organization that was established in Louisiana on Dec. 18, 2007. Almost a month later, on Jan. 14, 2008, their first patient flight lifted off. This organization was instituted to provide patients in need of medical treatment that is only available a long distance away free transportation.
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Kari Barnett, PFP marketing and event coordinator, stated that their ultimate goal is to “eliminate the burden of travel and to let the patient concentrate on getting better.”
Trahan was contacted by PFP in 2010 to become a volunteer pilot.“I had never heard of the organization, but because I was an active pilot and owned an airplane, it seemed like a good fit,” he said.
While apprehensive, he was happy to join. “I had a little trepidation because although I had given many airplane rides… I had never before committed myself to transporting perfect strangers on a lengthy cross-country flight on a firm schedule.”
Despite these reservations, he piloted his first flight on April 29, 2010. He looked back on his first patient, a 79-year-old retired R.N. from southern Arkansas. “I flew her from Ellington Field in Houston to the Monroe airport.”
“After departing Ellington, we flew through a layer of clouds where there was some light turbulence,” he recalled. “I was afraid my passenger might be concerned, but she appeared to be perfectly calm. After we climbed above the clouds and the ride became smooth, I asked her if she had ever flown in a small plane before she was diagnosed with cancer.”
The patient’s answer was “no.” This had been her first flight. “I then asked if she was afraid on the first flight and she replied, ‘No, I was 77 years old and had cancer, so flying in a plane was nothing.’”
This was the attitude of almost all his patients, said Trahan. “With very few exceptions, all the patients and their traveling companions were extremely grateful to pilots and everyone else associated with PFP and the Houston Ground Angels.”
Volunteering for PFP was a fulfilling experience for Trahan. “Flying those people to and from Houston was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.” His last mission was in 2020, as his plane was damaged beyond repair as a result of Hurricane Laura.
Through the years, Trahan helped the community in other ways. He actively practiced law in Lake Charles until 2015. He often volunteered his expertise in various positions in the Southwest Louisiana Bar Association. Prior to learning to fly, he also volunteered as a youth sailing instructor with the Lake Charles Yacht Club. He was also an active participant in annual United Way fundraising campaigns.
Trahan explained that he never really made the active decision to volunteer; it was like breathing. “I never gave a lot of thought to the idea that I was giving back to my community. It was just something that seemed natural to me.”
He expressed that PFP is in need of more volunteers. “I would urge any pilot to seriously consider volunteering as a PFP pilot.”
Barnett confirmed the high need, stating that there are approximately 3.6 million patients nationwide that are unable to receive vital medical treatment due to travel barriers. “Our goal is to eliminate those barriers… We are here to help our friends and neighbors in the state of Louisiana.”
The lifeblood of PFP is the three “Ps,” she explained. “We focus on what we call the 3 Ps: pilots, patients and patrons. We could not continue to accomplish our goals without all three.”
Volunteer pilots are not compensated for their time, energy, fuel or aircraft. Pilots fly patients up to 350 miles one way. If the patient’s treatment is further away, PFP coordinates with their companion volunteer organizations to fly the patient to their final destination.
PFP flies out of 69 airports in Louisiana to ensure convenience for all patients and their families. Out of the 60 nationwide volunteer pilot organizations, PFP is the only active one in Louisiana
Anyone who is interested in volunteering, or those in need of service, can contact the PFP office at 318-322-5112 or visit the website at www.pilotsforpatients.org.