Invermere man soars with help from Angel Flight East Kootenay

Volunteer flights take regional patients to Kelowna for medical appointments

After angels came to his rescue, Rick Jarrett became one too. When the Invermere resident needed to go to Kelowna for cancer testing, he was relieved to hear that he and his partner could catch a flight – for free – to get there.

That’s because, after Alberta began declining patients from British Columbia, Angel Flight East Kootenay started up in April to fly residents to treatment centres in Kelowna for medical appointments.

“The pressure they took off was priceless,” Jarrett said. “The greatest thing was that … I didn’t have to worry about – how to get there and back safely.”

Rather than making a long drive, his job was simply to get to Cranbrook and let the pilot take him straight to Kelowna.

“With the closure of facilities or our ability to utilize them in Calgary now, this has put so much more pressure on people having to travel – and particularly in the winter over the Rogers Pass – many who may be over my age or just are not comfortable travelling in those conditions,” he said. “It’s like seven hours in the winter – as long as nothing happens along the way – where this is an hour out of Cranbrook.”

Jarrett’s test results left him with a terminal diagnosis with “a long fancy name” and cancer that appears to be in his liver, gall bladder and pancreas, but he’s hoping his treatments will buy him more time.

“I’m all for the living. I want to get some more fishing in,” he said.

When he talked with the Pioneer on Friday, December 20th, he was going through his second round of chemotherapy and said there was an “indication that the medicines – the poison – I’m taking are at least slowing the progress.”

But he’s not letting his diagnosis, his treatment or his fishing aspirations stop him from helping others. Now that he understands the relief Angel Flight can offer patients, he’s devoting himself to getting other patients onboard for their appointments.

“Number one is that all the residents of this area are aware that it’s available and make use of it any time they need,” he said.

His second goal is to ensure Angel Flight has the funds to offer free flights for anyone who needs them.

In the longer term, he also wants to help the organization raise “a couple hundred thousand” to get a plane of its own.

“If we could buy our own aircraft, we could cut the cost of operation in half,” he said.

Right now a one-way or same-day flight costs the organization $900. If the patient stays in Kelowna longer than the plane, the round trip costs $1,800.

To drop the flight costs down, Jarrett hopes they can raise $100,000 and leverage it to bring in grants and additional funding opportunities.

Jarrett himself has been giving as long as he can remember. The former Kinsmen president, former Legion president and past Liberal riding president, said volunteering is “something I’ve done all my life. It’s part of who I am… I’ve always served. I was taught by my parents, so I grew up with a family with a lot of love.”

When he heard Jim Gibb’s account of how his late wife, Margie Gibb, was shuttled cumbersomely between hospitals and treatment centres in the United States, Alberta and British Columbia before her death in February (see page three in the December 5th, 2019 issue for the story), Jarrett knew he had to do whatever he could to help others get to and from their medical appointments.

“That really cemented my decision,” he said, adding that he has a great deal of empathy for the ordeal the Gibbs family endured.

Angel Flight is “available to all residents of the East Kootenays if they have the medical need to travel,” he said.

For more information, to donate or to request a flight, visit Angel Flight online at angelflightek.ca.

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