Dec. 22, 2016

On Dec. 22, 1981, Safe Flight Instrument Corp. conducted the first Corporate Angel Network (CAN) flight from White Plains, NY to Detroit, MI, taking home for Christmas a young cancer patient who had visited a bone cancer specialist at New York City’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Now, 35 years later, the organization, which was the brainchild of recovering cancer patients Pat Blum and Jay Weinberg and the late Safe Flight President Leonard Greene, serves thousands of cancer patients a year in need of transportation to specialized treatment.

CAN, which is based at New York’s Westchester County Airport (HPN), helps patients access the best treatment for their specific type of cancer by arranging free travel using empty seats on business aircraft. This improves the patients’ chances of survival, and reduces their emotional stress, physical discomfort and financial burden. Using 35 volunteers and a small paid staff, CAN arranges more than 2,500 flights a year and recently completed its 51,000th patient flight.

Honeywell has been involved with CAN since 1983, and Brett Ferrucci, manager of aircraft scheduling and dispatch, said the company has a strong desire to help those in need.

“There is a great sense of satisfaction when you can help someone who is desperately in need of transportation to and from their medical treatments,” said Ferrucci. “Being involved with CAN requires minimal effort. CAN understands the ever-changing schedule of a busy flight department. They always maintain strict confidentiality, and their associates are always pleasant to deal with.”

CAN’s Executive Director Gina Russo wants to leverage her experience in cancer care to help CAN serve even more patients.

“Although there are treatment centers throughout the country, there are cutting-edge clinical trials and specialized treatment that are only available at select locations,” she said. “It’s important for CAN to stay on top of what trials are happening around the country so we can get patients to treatment sites where novel therapies are being studied.”

CAN’s Future Plans

Going forward, CAN intends to partner with treatment centers on specific trials and ask aircraft operators based nearby to provide lift. While CAN plans to work with all stakeholders to make this happen, the organization will focus its efforts on the trials’ research coordinators.

“Research coordinators are the ones who speak with the patients, day in and day out.” said Russo. “They explain to the patients everything they need to know in order to make their experience as beneficial as possible, including, for example, having a caregiver travel with them to the trial.

“CAN is one of the key tools for having a patient stay enrolled in a trial. Sometimes, patients enroll in a trial, but midway through they say they can’t continue, sometimes because of the travel logistics or expense,” Russo added. “If we can help prevent a patient from getting to that point, it’s not only good for the patient, it’s good for the cancer community as a whole.”

CAN also plans to use technology to enhance its operations. A new database is being rolled out, and in the first quarter of 2017 a more user-friendly, mobile-capable website will be unveiled. CAN also plans to ramp up its social media efforts.

Meanwhile, CAN is looking to enlist more operators and ground transportation providers. If companies can’t offer seats on regular flights, they can offer space on dead-heads. Also valuable to CAN are fractional-hour donations.

“They are precious to us because we can send multiple patients on a single flight,” said Russo.

Learn more about CAN.