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Thursday, February 25, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Giving The Needy A Lift -- Angel Flight Pilots Fly Young Patients To Treatment

Seattle Times Eastside Bureau

The sick kids get to Steve Brandli of Bellevue.

His voice quivers when he talks about Lilly, a 5-year-old girl born with spina bifida, and her continuing medical treatment. Then there was Lance, an 11-year-old who needed a kidney transplant.

Helping the sick kids and their families attracted Brandli and his wife, B.J., to Angel Flight.

Like the other 70 Washington members of the nonprofit organization, the Brandlis offer free transport to and from medical appointments. Angel Flight volunteers go a bit further than driving the family car.

They fly the patients in private airplanes.

There is no charge for people with medical problems. The only requirements are the family must be financially distressed or unable to travel on public transportation.

"Caring for Lilly has been a very expensive process for the family," said Brandli. "They're out of money. They can't afford commercial airfare. The mother could drive, but it is a 12-hour trip" from Sun Valley, Idaho, to Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

The long sit would be difficult for any child. The necessity of a wheelchair complicates Lilly's life and mobility. 60 missions in '98

Last year the Washington Wing completed 60 missions. It is part of Angel Flight West that started in California in 1983. There are Angel Flight wings in 11 Western states.

The local group set a goal of 100 or more missions in 1999. To meet that they need more pilots and nonpilot volunteers.

In hopes of recruiting more private pilots, the Brandlis will help staff Angel Flight's booth at the Northwest Aviation Conference at the Puyallup Fairgrounds on Saturday and Sunday. The show will feature flying seminars, equipment and other aviation services.

Pilots who sign up can agree to do one mission a year or just help spread the word to the medical and flying community. Nonpilots are needed, too.

"People can participate as much or as little as they'd like," Steve Brandli said. "The planes don't matter. We have pilots with everything from tail draggers to turboprops.

"If someone has access to an airplane, we'll find them missions."

The Brandlis, who have four young children, serve as the state wing leaders. They joined the wing last spring.

For Steve, serving with Angel Flight allows him to satisfy his love of flying with his enjoyment of volunteering.

"I started flying when I was 19," he said. "My uncle had a small airplane and allowed me to take lessons in it.

"I was a little afraid to fly, and a big reason why I learned was to conquer that fear."

Although he got his private pilot's license, finances grounded Brandli while he finished school at the University of California at Irvine. He went to work for Microsoft and moved to Washington in 1987.

"A few years later, I had enough money to fly again," Brandli said.

He bought one airplane and courted his wife by flying her around the country on dates. When they had more kids than back seats, they bought a larger airplane.

However, like most private pilots, Brandli always feels the tension between his love of flying and his checkbook. He figures it costs about $300 an hour to operate his twin-engine airplane.

"B.J. and I both believe in giving back to the community," he said. "We give money every year to our favorite charities, but volunteering time is where the real emotional payback is."

Coordinating efforts

Although Brandli flew 15 missions last year, he and B.J. have spent much of this winter coordinating other flights and recruiting more volunteers. They've also been meeting with medical providers to educate them about the free flights.

Most recipients need transportation to and from major medical centers, such as Children's Hospital or Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. Patients and their families who need Angel Care services are cleared and/or referred by a hospital social worker.

Angel Care screens pilots, and most missions are flown with both a pilot and co-pilot. The pilot foots the bill for the airplane costs.

The Brandlis say other members don't need to get as involved as they do.

Last November, for instance, word came that a transplant kidney was available for Lance. Steve was scheduled to fly the mission, but the weather was too bad. So the Brandlis paid for Lance's ticket on a commercial carrier.

"This was exceptional," Steve Brandli said. "It wasn't part of Angel Flight. It was something we wanted to do."

Sherry Grindeland's phone message number is 206-515-5633. Her e-mail address is sgrindeland@seattletimes.com

------------ Angel Flight ------------

The Washington Wing of Angel Flight can be reached at 425-895-1587.

------------- Aviation show -------------

The Northwest Aviation Conference runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. Free admission and parking are available only through the gold gate.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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