Steve Danz learned about Angel Flight West back in 1998 when he read a flyer posted at Santa Monica Airport seeking volunteer pilots who could help sick people get to their medical appointments. The next week he attended an AFW orientation session to learn more. And now, almost 20 years later, he is being honored for the work he has done with the organization.

Danz has been included in the photo exhibit “Portraits of Compassion,” along  with 29 other L.A.-based “Unsung Heroes.” The exhibit, conceptualized and commissioned by the California Community Foundation, looks to elevate local stories of significant, but unrecognized, contributions across Los Angeles County and demonstrate how everyday individuals are creating social change in the community.

When Danz joined Angel Flight West he had already been a pilot for over 20 years with a career that afforded him the time to do volunteer work.

“I thought ‘what better and more joyful way to make a difference,’” Danz said.

Danz said that the work he and the other AFW volunteer pilots do is critically important.

“Next to the price of the healthcare itself, transportation is the biggest financial barrier for folks to access healthcare. We all started as pilots with our own planes and wanted to use them for something better. As AFW volunteer command pilots, we fly patients who need specialized, non-emergency medical services and get them to their appointments.”

The pilots call these flights “missions” and they carry them out at no cost to the patient, using their own planes, fuel and other resources.

Danz said the pilots’ work is not only life changing, but many times life-saving.

“We have many flights that come in weekly to Santa Monica Airport  transporting passengers to UCLA  Medical Center, Cedars Sinai, Children’s Hospital, etc., to receive dialysis, chemotherapy, participate in clinical trials and other life changing treatments.”

According to Danz, over a third of AFW’s passengers are children, including Elsy, a two year old who was born with an irreversible kidney condition that led to end stage renal disease.

“Her family of four struggles to subsist on her father’s seasonal income as an agricultural worker,” Danz said. Danz said that AFW’s volunteer pilots provided over 16 round trip flights so that Elsy could receive the lifesaving care she needed. “Thanks to the doctors at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Elsy now has a new kidney. … And Elsy’s is one of many, many stories with a good ending.”

Danz said he is both honored and humbled to have been selected as an “Unsung Hero.” But he will tell you he shares the award with all volunteer pilots who have been with Angel Flight West for the past 33 years.

“Angel Flight West has changed flying from fun to fulfilling. It truly has become joyful as we are using the resources for a real purpose. Passengers are treated with dignity and respect and they feel special – given the royal treatment by the pilots. The really human element is that their worth is acknowledged. We as pilots never hesitate to go ‘above and beyond’ what is expected of a charitable aviation volunteer.”

Danz mentioned that when the pilot and passenger reach their destination and need ground transportation from the airport to the medical facility the organization Earth Angels provides volunteer drivers to assist the patients.

“Even though our flights are free, the cost of the ‘last mile’ is preventing many people from utilizing our services.”

For more information on how to become an Angel Flight West pilot or Earth Angel, call (310) 390-2958 or visit the Angel Flight West headquarters at Santa Monica Airport.

The “Portraits of Compassion” exhibit will run through April 4 at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes (501 N Main St, Los Angeles) and is open to the public free of charge.

For more information on the exhibit, please visit http://calfund.org/laheroes.

jennifer@smdp.com

Photo by Sam Comen

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