At a young age, Matt Berkebile became fascinated with airplanes. Now he uses his passion for flight to help West Texans access medical care.
Berkebile coordinates local efforts for Angel Flight South Central, a nonprofit that offers patients free flights to medical centers.
“The goal of the organization as a whole is that everybody would realize the facilities known for doing the best at what they do to treat people are truly available to everyone,” Berkebile said. “Our mission is: Travel wouldn’t be a determining factor in getting that treatment.”
Since he first volunteered nearly two years ago, Berkebile has completed about a dozen flights. He said some patients turn to Angel Flight after exhausting money on medical treatments.
“I was struggling to find a nonprofit organization I was genuinely interested in until now,” Berkebile said. “I’ve gotten to serve and do my hobby. It was a good fit.”
Angel Flight is based in Dallas and helps patients in Texas and its neighboring states. Midland is in the southwest region, which spans from Abilene to El Paso.
Justin Burris, a local volunteer pilot, said the organization has helped people living in small West Texas towns.
“Some people are in Presidio, and it’s a long drive to Midland to get on a plane to go somewhere,” Burris said. “Sometimes we pick up people in remote areas of Texas to give people access to places with better transportation like Midland or take them places.”
Volunteer pilots for Angel Flight donate their time and travel expenses. The pilots use small aircraft, such as the Mooney Ovation plane Berkebile rents from Floris Flight Services at Midland Airpark. The size of the airplanes allows pilots to reach county airports that are close to people seeking medical transportation, Berkebile said.
Shireen Pitassi, missions director for Angel Flight, speaks with patients to arrange flights with volunteers in their regions. She said an increasing number of patients have shown interest in the organization since she became an employee in 2001.
“We want to ease your pain,” Pitassi said. “They get the opportunity to fly, and we want to make it a pleasant experience for them. It’s like going to the movies to forget your problems. You’re up in the air and forget you’re going to cancer treatment.”
Berkebile said he has made a difference for people who need medical care not available locally. He became a licensed pilot seven years ago and hopes others who enjoy flying will consider volunteering with Angel Flight.
“They get their pilot’s license and might fly a little bit but then they get married,” Berkebile said. “They might have a plane sitting in the hangar. This organization serves the purpose to serve people medically. It gives them a reason to fly.”