Gem of the sky

Written by Kerrie Alexander

With a current shortage of specialist care and surgery available locally, many neurological, cancer and cardiac patients have to find a way to make ongoing trips to Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast for medical treatment.

Travel is not only costly but also leads to travel fatigue for the patients.

River Heads Pharmacy owner and veteran pilot Mark (Maverick) McMurtrie, kept hearing from his customers about the struggle to get to these appointments, especially those who are immune comprised and can’t travel on public transport.

So, Mark made it his goal to make a difference and take to the air for free.

With the help of Director of Operations Melissa Lay, Mark now donates his Piper Arrow aircraft, piloting skills, time, and money into the not-for-profit Community Flights Charity to help close the gap to healthcare access for those doing it tough.

Sponsorship and donations from local supporters play a big part in keeping this service in the air and the Hervey Bay RSL is proud to be a major sponsor with a Community Grant of over $10,000 this year to cover the cost of the charity’s office rent.

Community Flights aims to provide a flexible, safe, and free transport service to bring patients from their nearest regional airport to their medical treatment or services destination.

Mark said approved travel is for those who need it most with criteria to meet before take-off.

“We are very specific about who we take,” Mark said.

“It’s charity money and we are catering to those people who are struggling so our criteria include those who are in financial hardship or need ongoing medical treatment all the time; that can be very taxing on people financially.

“Or, If the doctor says their immune system is so bad that they can’t go on a train or a bus because they are at risk, we will take them.”

Mark said the response from all his passengers since starting the service in July this year had been overwhelming.

“They are all super appreciative and they can’t imagine that someone is doing this, especially for free! A few do cry and that’s heartbreaking.

“Some of the people I have flown have been to the point where they were just about to give up.

“There was a lady from Childers who was at the point of her cancer treatment that she was in so much pain and just couldn’t drive (down to Brisbane) anymore.

“The week before Melissa had handed out flyers to the doctors and her doctor referred her to us.

“She told me I was her “angel”. I’m not good with compliments but that was very rewarding.

“I love doing it. It’s so good to know that’s it’s needed and appreciated.”

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