Hope Air and its partners help a child travel to receive lifesaving heart surgeries

Two-year-old Reed from Calgary, AB., has turned a corner and is feeling much better after travelling for several heart surgeries. Thanks to the charity Hope Air – which provides free flights to healthcare far from home – and its partners WestJet and the Calgary International Airport, Reed and his mother have been able to avoid long, uncomfortable bus rides and precarious winter driving conditions to Edmonton.

Reed has already been through seven surgeries and will need to travel for more surgeries and appointments. His mom, Courtney, first learned about Reed’s diagnosis before he was born. Reed has a double inlet left ventricle (DILV), meaning half a heart. Doctors told Courtney he would need open-heart surgeries, but the specialists were in Edmonton – a three-hour drive away. “The doctors told me that without the surgery he wouldn’t live to be ten days old. The whole thing was a blur.

At first, it didn’t even. register that I would need to travel to Edmonton. I just knew that whatever he needed, I was willing to do,” said Courtney. Courtney had plans to drive to Edmonton for Reed’s birth, but at 33 weeks, she learned her baby was in distress and was transported by air to Edmonton. Courtney stayed in the hospital until it was time to give birth, while medical staff monitored unborn Reed’s heart.

At five days old, Reed had his first open-heart surgery and remained in the hospital for more than four months. After he returned home, Reed had to go back to the hospital again. Courtney did not have a reliable vehicle and rented a car to drive to Edmonton. Unfortunately, an extreme snowstorm forced her to turn around halfway through her trip. In addition to poor driving conditions, the cost of renting a vehicle started to quickly add up. Courtney’s only other option was to take a bus, which would extend their travel time and be very uncomfortable for a sick infant.

It was a stroke of luck that Courtney saw a post on Facebook about Hope Air. She found out they were able to take WestJet flights from Calgary to Edmonton to reach Reed’s treatments at no cost.. Hope Air is a longtime partner of the WestJet Cares for Kids program. WestJet’s donation of the gift of flight enables Hope Air to help families like Reed’s travel so they can receive much-needed medical care. Through the support of Hope Air and its partners, families can overcome the barrier of cost and distance and focus on the health of their child.

Courtney and Reed have also had to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the Calgary International Airport(YYC) helped alleviate her stress by taking all possible precautions to ensure everyone in the facility follows all health and safety protocols. The airports implemented increased sanitization and safety protocols to keep guests and employees from getting and spreading the virus.

“YYC has been open and operating the safe movement of people and goods from across the globe for the entire pandemic,” said Andy Davis, Senior Director of Terminal Operations.“It’s stories like Reed’s that remind us how important it was for us to invest heavily and quickly change our operations to reflect our internationally accredited #FlyHealthy program.” The team at WestJet was also incredibly supportive, and Courtney and Reed felt safe and comfortable flying because of the airline’s robust health and safety measures in-flight and throughout their travel journey.

“I grew up flying with WestJet and have continued to fly with them as my airline of choice. You can tell they are genuine people and are very personable. They have been amazing with us,” said Courtney. “I even bought Reed a toy WestJet plane because he loves watching airplanes in the sky.” Courtney is relieved to know that Hope Air and partners like WestJet and YYC are there to take away at least some of the burden of travelling with a child to reach vital and lifesaving medical care.

We acknowledge that we live and work on the unceded, traditional territories of many Indigenous peoples. We are grateful for the privilege of being on lands that these peoples have nurtured since time immemorial.