Friday, May 30, 2008

Grace on Wings comes to the rescue

Indianapolis - Happy reunions are synonymous with air travel. Indiana pilot Hal Blank stands inside the Hawker Beechcraft hanger in Indianapolis on a rainy day. He is getting his MU-2 airplane, nicknamed "Nellie," ready for a special reunion on May 14, 2008.

"I am listening to the gear box as I'm turning this to make sure it's nice and smooth," says Blank as he checks the prop. Blank carefully examines the blue and white airplane with a cross on the tail before taking off on a 2,200 mile journey that will reunite a Washington teenager with his parents.

Life has not been very smooth for 17-year-old Casey Lang. In 2004, Casey was diagnosed with a thyroid condition that often prompted occasional seizures.

On September 3, 2006, Casey visited his father who was working in Indiana. During the visit, Casey suffered a seizure that was resistant to medication. That seizure lasted nearly 15 hours and put Casey in a coma.

"He had a significant brain injury during the event and left him on a ventilator that left him entirely dependent on life support," says Blank.

On January 2, 2007, Casey moved from Riley Hospital for Children to a medical facility in Shelbyville, Indiana. Casey's parents wanted their son back in Washington, but their insurance would not cover the $30,000 air ambulance charge. They stayed with their son in Indiana as long as they could but eventually moved to Seattle while Casey stayed at the Especially Kidz Health and Rehab Center in Shelbyville.

"On the front of his chart, it said 'Don't tell him we had to move back to Seattle,'" recalls Blank. "I mean, that was heartbreaking. Heart wrenching. Can you imagine, having to leave your loved one behind?"

Hal had an answer. It included wings and a prayer. His ministry, "Grace on Wings", is a faith-based air ambulance service. It is designed to provide cost-effective transport for people needing to travel throughout the Midwest for medical treatment. The air ambulance helps patients who are too ill for commercial flight, too ill for long distance ground transportation and unable to afford transportation to access critical medical care.

Casey's parents learned about "Grace on Wings" ( and made contact in hopes of getting help. Their prayers were answered. Hal Blank already had a fundraising trip scheduled for the West Coast. Casey's flight from Indy to Seattle was funded entirely by donations. The typical mission costs $15,000. The medical personnel are volunteers.

"Like it says on the door, we are showing God's grace through aviation," says Blank. "Every patient that we transport will be prayed over."

Pastor Gary Walker of Grace Evangelical Church in Indianapolis was one of the "Grace on Wings" staff members who greeted Casey when Shelbyville Fire Department paramedics brought him in an ambulance to the Indianapolis hanger. Walker led a prayer as Casey lay on a stretcher.

"Father, we thank you for Casey and his life," Walker prayed as the rest of the team bowed their heads. Casey began to smile when Walker mentioned the journey home.

"Thank you that he can go back and be with his mom and his dad," Walker prayed. "We pray that you will give him a safe flight and that you'll watch over him."

team loaded Casey on to the air ambulance for the long flight. Casey's favorite stuffed animal - a green monkey - sat next to him on the flight. The air ambulance has a specialty cot, oxygen and medical monitoring equipment plus two medical personnel to treat one patient.

"It is a 2 to 1 ratio on care on the aircraft for acuity level, so they are getting the best possible care and the best possible treatment en route," says Blank.

Before the flight, doctors determined that Casey could be off ventilator support during the daytime. Blank's wife Tamara, who is a physician assistant, monitored Casey during the seven hour flight and provided him oxygen and medication. Paramedic Eric Frantz and co-pilot Michael Meister were also on board.

"He (Casey) does have a trach, so we will be doing some trach suctioning and monitoring his blood pressure, O2 stats - carbon dioxide level - anything like that in flight," says Blank who piloted the plane for much of the 2,200 miles. 20 months after suffering the seizure that put him in an Indiana hospital, Casey arrives at Boeing Field in Washington. He is finally home.

Casey's step mother, Pam Niesler and Casey's father, Kevin are on the tarmac when medical crews unload Casey from the plane in Washington. "Finally home after all this time," says Kevin Lang. "Hi Casey. Good to have you home buddy," says Kevin smiling at his son.

Paramedics will transport Casey to Seattle Children's Hospital. Eventually, Casey will move to Ashley House near Olympia, Washington closer to his family.

"Now, I can see him every day," says Neisler. "When I was back there in Indiana, I saw him every day. We had to come back here. I'm just glad he's back home."

"He (Casey) needs to be with his family," says Blank. "He needs the support of his family."

Casey's medical care will continue near the people who love him thanks to people who loved doing it for him. A family back together because of Hoosiers who believe in faith and reunions.

"They are so grateful. And, it's not for us. We want all the honor and glory to go to the Lord," says Blank. "I am just so thankful we can provide this service today and get him out there and be reunited with his family."

"Grace on Wings" completes its 12th mission with plans for future reunions.

"For us, it is a great feeling of accomplishment. And a great feeling of fulfillment to bring families back together," says Blank.

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