Florence Bethard, a very active member of Louisiana’s Pilots for Patients, was the special guest speaker for the Winnfield Rotary Club on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Mrs. Bethard, is a Baton Rouge native and long-time resident of Coushatta in Red River Parish, was introduced by Rotarian Bob Holeman.
Mrs. Bethard spoke passionately about Pilots for Patients, which was the brainchild of Philip Thomas, a pilot living in Monroe. Bethard relayed that while working with the nationwide organization, Angel Flight Thomas observed that very few patients from Louisiana were being transported for treatment. He thought an organization of private pilots within the state would help get the service to more patients in Louisiana, so he organized Pilots for Patients in 2008, and Mrs. Bethard got eagerly on board.
Currently, Mrs. Bethard has made more flights than any other female pilot in the state of Louisiana through her service with Pilots for Patients. She received her flight jacket when she completed 50 missions and her pin at 100 missions. She believes she has about 175 missions under her belt.
She explained that any patient in the state who needs transportation for medical reasons is eligible to fly with Pilots for Patients, as long as the patient can board the aircraft on their own, does not need medical attention during flight, and has a doctor’s written approval to fly. The patient may bring a companion, and a responsible adult must accompany a child.
As of today, Pilots for Patients has flown close to 7000 missions, logging 2.3 million nautical miles, transporting patients anywhere they can reach with a small plane, or as far as the pilot is willing to go. In addition, there is no charge for the service, which significantly reduces the patients’ travel time and fatigue.
Mrs. Bethard said Pilots currently has 110 volunteer pilots from Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas, who fly their own planes and provide the fuel for the flights of patients to medical appointments for doctor visits, checkups, treatment, any medical reason they need to travel. The organization has a website with contact information. A volunteer administrator contacts the pilots and coordinates between pilot and patient.
According to Mrs. Bethard, the flights are identified by the plane’s unique tail sign under the Medical Alliances tail sign, which alerts air traffic control that the flight has a medical patient on board, and often gives the pilots special dispensation to do things that will allow the patient to be more comfortable in flight.
Mrs. Bethard has flown children to and from St. Jude’s in St. Louis, as well as many patients to and from MD Anderson in Houston for cancer treatment, stem cell donors to the harvest site, stem cells to the location of the recipient, COVID tests to Denton, Texas, and even organs. However, most organs are transported by another volunteer organization because of the unique conditions required.
Mrs. Bethard’s highlights have been flying a 17-year-old patient from St. Jude’s to his home after he was released cancer-free from the hospital and transporting a 39-year-old patient with a 5-year-old daughter home, who was diagnosed with melanoma which had spread all over his body, to his home after a new treatment protocol at MD Anderson had cured his cancer.
Mrs. Bethard related two scares from her flight career, one when she got a little too close to a front, and the plane went out of control. She was the regulation distance from the weather system, but the front affected the flight controls anyway. Once the aircraft increased its distance from the front, she regained control, and all was well. On another occasion, her patient had a seizure during the flight. Once they landed, an EMT team on the runway treated the patient, and she made it to her appointment on time.
Mrs. Bethard flies a Cirrus aircraft equipped with a whole-plane emergency recovery parachute system, which gives the plane its nickname, the “plane with the parachute.” While the plane must be at an altitude of 800 feet for the chute to be effective, this is one of the safest and best-selling single-engine planes on the market. She said that while her plane cannot be adorned with LSU colors, it is pretty, and she clearly loves this plane.
Bethard answered lots of questions from Rotarians after which, the meeting was concluded with the Rotary motto, “Service above self.”
The Rotary Club of Winnfield meets every Wednesday at Noon for lunch at Lynda’s Country Kitchen. For more information about the Rotary Club of Winnfield, you may contact President, Jodi Taylor (832) 573-5085. You can also find club information on Facebook at Rotary Club of Winnfield Facebook Page or online at Rotary.org.