Medical transportation service marks a milestone

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Richard Norris of Hillsville made headlines worldwide in March 2012 when he received a comprehensive face transplant at a Baltimore hospital.

Next month, depending on his recovery, he hopes to make plans to make a brief speech at a reception at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington. The April 18 event will mark a milestone for the Virginia Beach-based nonprofit that flew him from Southwest Virginia to Baltimore to receive treatment.

Mercy Medical Airlift (MMA) has provided 100,000 patient trips over the past 40 years. The charity provides transportation to patients who need specialized treatment in places far from where they live.
Norris, 37,  was the victim of a shooting accident 15 years ago that left his face disfigured. He relied on Angel Flights Mid-Atlantic, a MMA program, to travel back and forth to University of Maryland Medical Center for his transplant and treatment before and after the procedure.

Angel Flights are provided by volunteer pilots who use their own small aircraft to fly patients free of charge.

Of the 100,000 patients served by MMA, Angel Flights account for 24 percent. MMA administers a number of other programs, the largest being the airline ticket program, which partners with five major U.S. airlines and served 70 percent of patients.

Another program, Angel Bus, served 4 percent of the patients. It is a ground transportation program that provides free commercial bus and rail tickets as well as gas cards and travel on motor coaches owned and operated by volunteer drivers.

MMA also operates a discounted air ambulance program, Air Compassion America, which assisted two percent of the total number of patients.

Sixty-two percent of all patients served by MMA are veterans and wounded warriors, including adversely-affected family members. Medically-related travel for the military community falls under the umbrella of a program called Air Compassion for Veterans. It is the largest medical air transportation program in the nation serving service members.

Southwest Airlines announced Thursday that MMA and Norfolk-based Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters are two of more than 90 nonprofit hospitals and medical organizations from across the nation selected for Southwest’s 2013 Medical Transportation Grant Program.

The program tries lessen the burden of travel expenses for families who are facing serious illness by providing complimentary, roundtrip airline tickets to nonprofit organizations.

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