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   GRACE FLIGHT OF AMERICA  Half the Cure is Getting There
2010 - Volume 1 Issue 2
Vida Fronteriza
Local Heros
Article: Charlotte Tallman
Joe Burgess, Dan Telfair
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When Ketzya Rivera was born nearly three years ago, she arrived into the world with her thumb hanging from her hand. Her parents, distraught, had many questions about the treatment options as well as some concerns. Their main concern kept coming up over and over again – how were they going to get to Albuquerque for the series of appointments leading up to and following surgery to repair Ketzya’s hand?

    In New Mexico there are 38 command pilots who have completed over 280 missions so far in 2010.
  Photo Captions

1.) Volunteer Sofia Hernandez, Jose Rivera, Ketzya Rivera, Karla Escobedo, pilot Dan Telfair and volunteer Ratha McClelland.

2.) Ashley Chinas prepares to ride with Grace Flight so her brother can see a specialist in Albuquerque.

3.) Christopher Chinas and mother Josefina Hidalgo.

4.) Ashley, Dan, Christopher, Josefina and Enrique Chinas.

5.) Pilot John Clapper, Argentina Herrera, Brandon Feliciano, Ratha and Sofia.

6.) Ketzya Rivera on an early flight to Albuquerque, where she received surgery to repair her thumb.

For more information
on Grace Flight services,
both in New Mexico and

Grace Flight Services
“Her thumb was just barely hanging on,” says Karla Escobedo, Ketzya’s mom, of the abnormality. “It needed to be fixed so she could pick things up and hold things. You don’t think about it, but in order to do those things you have to have a thumb.”

Fortunately for Ketzya, her mom and dad, Jose Rivera, found just the kind of help they needed through Grace Flight of America – New Mexico Wing, an organization of volunteer pilots who donate their aircraft, time and resources to fly New Mexicans in need to medical appointments, children to adoption and special needs camps, domestic violence victims to safe havens and even service animals, blood, organs and tissue donations that are needed across the state.

“At the time we didn’t even have a car. It wouldn’t have been possible to drive to Albuquerque. We wouldn’t have made it to the surgery there without Grace Flight,” says Karla of the surgery Ketzya received that created a thumb out of her index finger, subsequent appointments to follow up on the recovery and new appointments needed to take care of three holes in Ketzya’s heart.

Grace Flight New Mexico was originally formed under Angel Flight West in 1999. After serving as part of Angel Flight West for approximately 10 years, the organization re-formed under Grace Flight of America on August 15, 2009. The mission of Grace Flight New Mexico is to provide free air transportation in and around New Mexico in order to meet healthcare and basic human needs – needs that are strong in the state because there are many remote areas and few centralized medical facilities. New Mexico represents less than four percent of the total population served by Grace Flight Wings, but accomplishes over 16 percent of all Grace Flight missions. Most flights are 200 to 400 miles, but when a passenger needs a longer flight between major cities, Grace Flight purchases commercial tickets when funds are available.

Argentina Herrera, 39, of Las Cruces, is one of those passengers. In early 2010, Argentina was diagnosed with cervical cancer and has since been on five flights to Albuquerque for treatment. Her son, Brandon Feliciano, 18, accompanies her on the flights. “I feel very thankful that my mom has the help getting to Albuquerque because it would be very hard to get there . . . almost impossible,” Brandon says. “You don’t always find help like this, and when you do it is very special.”

Enrique Chinas and Josefina Hidalgo agree. The couple have son, Christopher Chinas, 1, who suffers from hypothyroidism, and without Grace Flight, the trip for treatment would be tough for the family. “The distance would be hard,” says Enrique, who usually stays behind in Las Cruces to work while Josefina takes Christopher and daughter Ashley Chinas, 4. “We are so grateful for the opportunity.”

While the pilots contribute enormous amounts of money and resources, as well as their own aircraft, their volunteers on the ground help with details. Sofia Hernandez is one local volunteer who coordinates missions, translates when needed and provides rides from outlying communities to the airport.

“This area is made for Grace Flight because so many communities are outlying communities,” says Sofia, who works with volunteer Ratha McClelland on transporting the passenger by car to the airport. “I am really grateful for Grace Flight because it has really impacted the community.”

And the New Mexico Wing Leader, Dan Telfair of Albuquerque, agrees. “We will do anything we can if it is practical,” he says of the organization that has a $100,000 budget each year but only receives around $21,000 in grants (all of the other expenses are covered by the pilots themselves), “We need more help. Most of our pilots are from Albuquerque and we could use more in Southern New Mexico.” ///
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