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Mercy Flight’s far-reaching impact on WNY community

“We lost a family member"
Posted at 5:12 PM, Apr 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-27 17:34:25-04

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — “Mercy Flight has become a verb, you know — he's ‘Mercy Flighted' — it’s just what they do in this community — is just amazing,” declared Mary Friona-Celani, East Aurora resident.

Mary Firona-Celani, East Aurora resident, reflects on how Mercy Flight saved her daughter's life.

Mercy Flight has a far-reaching impact across our Western New York community.

Many are reacting to the tragic Mercy Flight helicopter crash that occurred Tuesday afternoon in Genesee County in the town of Elba killing two members on board. Police identified the victims as James Sauer and Stewart Dietrich. Both were 60 years old.

The crash is impacting families helped by the service and first responders who work with Mercy Flight on a daily basis.

12-years-ago Friona-Celani's daughter Maria was accidentally shot in her leg while on a camping trip in the Southern Tier with family friends.

A terrifying moment — the girl was on the verge of bleeding to death. Mary says she wasn't there but got the call that Mercy Flight would be flying her daughter to the hospital.

maria hurt hospital.jpg
Maria in hospital.

“There would be no after Maria's accident if it weren't for Mercy Flight. She definitely 100-percent would not have survived,” remarked Friona-Celani.

Mary became emotional while reflecting on that horrible moment, with an incredible team from mercy flight who kept her daughter calm and helped save her life.

“They're so amazing at what they do and you know it's dangerous,” Friona-Celani reflected.

Dan Neaverth, Jr., Commissioner, Erie County Homeland Security & Emergency Services.

“You might not know the impact that they have every single day on people's lives,” explained Dan Neaverth, Jr., Commissioner, Erie County Homeland Security & Emergency Services.

Neaverth witnessed the work of Mercy Flight firsthand in his job and as a firefighter and EMT.

“The first responder community has been definitely impacted by the loss of life,” replied Neaverth. “We lost a family member.”

Neaverth tells me Mercy Flight reaches every fire department in Erie and other nearby counties.

Dan Neaverth, Jr., Commissioner, Erie County Homeland Security & Emergency Services.

“There's more of a sting to it because they're not just somebody that flies in, takes care of our patients, then transports to the hospital or at the hospital end — they're not just somebody that drops it off their family,” Neaverth responded. “It’s that relationship that we wouldn't trade anything for.”

But that family is now disrupted by this devastating tragedy. For now, Mercy Flight services are grounded.

“We’ll pitch in and we'll pick up the slack where we need to until things can get back normal,” said Neaverth.

A spokeswoman for Mercy Flight tells me they would not be conducting any interviews right now.

Maria hugging a Mercy Flight member.

Mercy Flight is now a 'family member' to Mary and her daughter Maria.

“The second I heard about it, I was just devastated. I was praying for everybody involved,” recalled Friona-Celani.

Mary says no one from the crew that saved her daughter's life was involved in Tuesday's crash.

Several years ago Mary and her daughter, who is now 26 and living in Arizona, finally met their Mercy Flight team.

MARIA .jpg
Maria met Mercy Flight team several years after her devastating injury.

“For years she kept saying I really want to meet them, mom. I really just want to thank them, so a few years ago thankfully we were able to go and have a reunion, and honestly — one of the best days ever for us,” Friona-Celani recalls.

Mercy Flight has forever touched this mother's heart.

“Now if I hear that sound I just look up and I see that beautiful helicopter and I always give the sign of the cross and pray for wherever they are going because you never know what their mission holds,” described Friona-Celani.