On October 12, 2015, Grace on Wings flew it’s 366th mission. Our patient we served, Tim, was a pleasant 43 year old who, since birth, has lived with spina bifida, a neural tube defect causing incomplete closure of the spinal canal.
Due to the interruption in the spinal system, this causes neurological dysfunction, at varying degrees, below the level of the defect. In Tim’s case, this resulted in bladder and bowel dysfunction, the inability to use his legs, and a disruption in the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) causing an abnormal accumulation of CSF in his brain, called hydrocephalus.
Despite his disabilities, Tim has been living fairly independently throughout most of his adult life in Harwich, MA, even having the ability to frequently travel to Florida commercially to visit his parents who live in Fernandina Beach, FL. However, he recently became acutely ill with a series of back to back infections that he has struggled to fully recover from, resulting in a decline in his overall health status.
As we arrived Tim’s bedside at the facility in Harwich, MA, we also met his mother, Mary. She would be flying with Tim. We immediately recognized the strong bond between her and Tim that radiated a mother’s unconditional love, attentiveness, compassion and concern. Her words and actions were evidence that she was his support anchored with positive energy from the love of Christ.
This decline virtually halted his independence, requiring his need for skilled nursing care in an LTAC facility, where he has been since living in Massachusetts. His parents have been frequently commuting between there and their home in Florida to visit and support him, hoping for his full recovery and return to independence. The frequent travel had taken its toll, and they began to look into medical transportation to have him moved to Florida, where they could remain closer and more wholly provide care and support that he needed. This is when they reached out to Grace On Wings for help.
During our assessment of Tim he verbalized that he liked to fly and was ready and excited. Once we had him transferred to the ambulance cot and headed to the ground ambulance, we were met in the hallways by facility caregivers, nursing staff, and other patients who stopped us to give Tim hugs and say their well wishes and goodbyes. Tim was obviously loved by many!
As we arrived to the airport, we pulled up alongside Abe and we unloaded our brother from the ambulance. The GOW crew along with Mary and the ground ambulance crew gathered around Tim as Hal prayed over him, then we secured him into the aircraft and prepared for take-off. Although still a little anxious, Tim was ready and in good spirits.
As we became airborne, Mary also told us of her worrying about him developing an infection, as he sometimes will display signs that come and go, such as those over the weekend, then progressively get very ill very fast. We assured her that we would monitor him very closely.
Tim’s vital signs were stable, he appeared comfortable and was tolerating the flight well. We treated Tim medically, as required during the flight, kept him comfortable, and enjoyed a few conversations when he wasn’t resting. After we landed and transferred Tim into the ground ambulance, we were quickly en route to the facility in Florida that was awaiting his arrival. Mary was relieved and thankful that we payed close attention to her concerns, which were very consistent with Tim’s condition.
For this mission, we had the privilege of not only serving Tim, but also his mother Mary, who remained at his side throughout the mission. Mary has always been very involved in caring for her son and knew his history well.
Since Tim’s condition renders him high risk and susceptible to so many life threatening complications, having Mary along not only was strong emotional support for her son, but she was a blessing to the crew as well. We are always prepared to care for the patients we serve, as we review their medical history thoroughly, but if we devise a care plan for each mission to only care for the condition or illness, it limits our God given gifts to use our skills to their fullest potential. It’s missions like this that remind us of those wonderful gifts that have been given with the intent to serve others, but they also remind us of God’s grace that is abundantly around us and it’s up to us to open our hearts to accept it to glorify the Lord in our works.
God gave us the skills to tend to Tim’s medical needs, but Mary knows her son and his condition better than anyone else, and her presence offered us the insight to recognize his subtle cues to his changing condition that were unique to Tim. Any of us can be the best, the most knowledgeable and the most skilled nurse, paramedic or respiratory therapist, but if we fail to see our patients as an individual, a person, a brother or sister, and we only see and treat the illness we take credit for knowing so much about, we can’t possibly shine the light of Christ on them in the way it was intended.
It’s important for many reasons to allow loved ones to accompany our patients on missions, but most importantly, having the ability to focus on patient/family centered care coupled with our skills and mission to share Christ’s love is what sets us apart and glorifies the Lord. God graced us with Mary’s presence to complement our gifts to Tim and deliver him safely to Florida. He is near his parents who dearly love him and want to give him the support he needs during his healing.
I have been blessed to serve Tim and his family alongside Hal, Chet, and JR.