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Giving monthly to make Canadian healthcare even more universal

Dr. Richard McLean decided to become a monthly donor because he knows first-hand about the patients Hope Air helps. Not only is he a retired doctor who worked at two of Canada’s leading hospitals, but he volunteers his time as a Hope Air pilot to fly patients to vital medical care far from home.

Hope Air interviewed him to find out why he gives and why he’s so passionate about  the charity.

How did you get involved with Hope Air?
I found out about Hope Air through a member of the board of directors, Gerd Wengler. I met Gerd at a fly-in (OshKosh), and he told me about the patient flights he was doing with Hope Air and it sounded interesting so I applied online.

I flew one or two missions every year while I was working but have flown more lately since I retired from working full-time at the hospital. I have flown about 12 to 15 missions, eight of which were last year when I became semi-retired and had more time.
 
You are a monthly donor. Why do you donate regularly like that?
I give monthly because I want to help. I think it’s a really neat charity. From being a pilot, you get to know patients you are helping on the flights. People are very grateful. These flights have a big impact on their quality of life and I know that first hand from volunteering.
 
What was your most memorable experience as a volunteer pilot?
I remember one woman who had obviously never been on a small plane before. She was a bit nervous, but once we took off, she had a great time. She was snapping pictures throughout the flight. I could tell that the flight itself was one of the highlights of her life. She got a lot of pleasure from flying in a small plane, which is a pretty unique experience.

I am always impressed by how grateful people are and I like getting to know a bit about their life stories. If it wasn’t for us, they would likely find a way to get there, but it would be a big ordeal and we can relieve that burden of what would otherwise be a one- or two-day car or bus ride.

These people are not going for trivial reasons. They have life-threatening or life-limiting illnesses. A simple flight makes a big difference in their lives.

I’ll never forget the excitement of that woman in the plane.
 
When did you become a pilot and why? 
I always liked the idea of flying. I became a pilot in the early 2000s when my son was in high school and he was interested in flying. We did ground school together. Now I have approximately 1,000 hours of flying experience and I log an average of 60 to 80 hours a year. The more you fly, the more you realize there is always something new to learn.

I live in Burlington and fly out of the Burlington Airpark, which is not far from my home. When I fly, there is always a purpose. I am either practicing something to develop my skills or flying patients. It is a wonderful way to see Ontario - in the fall, I get to see the colours and the beautiful sights and get a great feeling from knowing I am helping.

From the pilot’s perspective, it is a lot of fun. I am doing something I love to do and flying people somewhere important. For me, it combines passions. It’s a love for your hobby and it is a great service.
 
What do you want people to know about Hope Air?
Despite the fact that we have universal health care, Canadians needs Hope Air.

If you have had a kidney transplant or you have a child with heart defects that has to go back for treatments repeatedly, a Hope Air flight can have a huge impact on the quality of life.

If you need a transplant and then have to deal with rejection of the new organ and each time you have to take the bus 20 hours to get the hospital, flights make a very big difference to your quality of life.

Hope Air has opened my eyes to the web of support patients need. We are part of that web of support that makes it possible for them to benefit from universal healthcare. It’s not really universal without Hope Air.

If you look internationally at healthcare systems across the world, Canada ranks fairly low compared to other developed economies. One of the drivers of our low ranking is access. A big issue is our geography and the distance many people have to travel to reach secondary or tertiary care. Hope Air addresses this issue in a very tangible way for people.

The other thing I want people to know is that the people I fly are real people with a real need for access to high quality medical care. Hope Air is enabling access for them.