BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) Even though “Wings - Flights of Hope” has been operating for ten years, founder and pilot Joe DeMarco is still surprised that many people are not aware of the non-profit group based out of Orchard Park, NY.
“It is so rewarding to take your plane and go out and fly, and really make a difference in someone’s life,” adds DeMarco.
Wings uses volunteer pilots, along with private aircraft, to fly medical patients for out-of-town treatments within a two-hour flying radius of Buffalo.
“It’s all free. We can’t even accept money from anybody we fly because we are not for hire,” explained DeMarco.
Last year, Wings flew 350 missions including one last September that saw Joe DeMarco leave a Buffalo Bills game so he could fly a young girl from East Pembroke (Batavia) to Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia for emergency surgery.
“Joe and the Wings program are exceptional. They are exceptional in how they help us care for the kids,” commented Dr. Scott Kozin from the Shriners Hospital.
The donated flights use private planes like a Piper Malibu to transport patients more quickly and with less-hassle than by going through commercial airlines, and that is a major consideration for patients who cannot travel far because of their condition.
Four-year old Audrina Peterson has Ollier’s Disease which causes tumors to form in her bones, and the condition makes her violently sick when traveling long distances by car.
“Her hips are affected. Her spine is affected, and sitting in that position (riding in a car) is very uncomfortable for her,” said her mother Eileen Peterson from East Pembroke.
Thanks to Wings, the Peterson’s have been able to make several trips to Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia (including the emergency surgery in September) because the travel time is little more than one hour.
Because the flights are offered free of charge, the cost savings are huge for families that are struggling with medical related expenses.
“Sometimes it might be four or five hundred dollars for a flight just to go down to New York City for the day,” explained Branden Merrick from Geneseo, who needs special chemo-treatments for a rare soft tissue sarcoma.
“Basically it travels through your blood stream and attacks your organs,” said Merrick.
Merrick, whose wife is also battling cancer as they care for a 9-month old child, needs to travel to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan every Friday - something that is accomplished thanks to the Wings program and its pilots.
Wings also partners with Karosa Executive Chauffeurs in New Jersey to provide free ground transportation for patients in the New York City area.
“They need it. They need it more than anything. I’ve been blessed but if I can save one more soul - it is worth it,” said owner Vinnie Karosa who donates a driver and vehicle free of charge to help Wings.
Wings also arranges discount pricing from rental car agencies like Enterprise that provides vehicles to families of sick individuals for as little as $25 per day.
Various Western New York businesses and donors cover the cost of operating the planes which can be close to $400 per hour.
More information about the program is available at: