The sun seems to be taking its time rising into the morning sky over the Converse County Airport as Daleray Madewell begins his day.
Perhaps the sun is slowed by the chill of the changing seasons. Or, perhaps it’s the anticipation of the life-saving day that lays ahead that makes everything seem to go slow.
None of that delays Daleray. He has an appointment to keep and, despite what the sun had on its agenda for the day, his is going to be a busy one.
The first snow of the year had fallen overnight in the mountains, which glimmered brightly in the distance as the sun spread a blanket of warmth across a dew-soaked landscape Oct. 10.
Daleray made his way north of town to where the hangar and his 1960 Cesna were waiting. He is one of 28 charity pilots flying the skies over Wyoming. These are people following their calling to help others with the means that have been given to them by God. Daleray is a Pilot for Christ.
This day, he is off to Minnesota.
“There’s a young lady that’s been sick, I guess, I’m not really sure what’s going on,” Daleray explained as he checks his plane. “She needs to get back to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for treatments or check ups or something.
“A lot of times I don’t get too wrapped up in why they’re going. That’s not really for me to decide.”
Daleray is doing all of this of his own free will. And on his own dime. He won’t take a cent for his services.
In fact, he scarcely ever even receives any recognition for his good deeds. So why wouldn’t he be more concerned about the how’s and why’s of his forth coming day of work? It’s because Daleray is of a collective mindset that has been spreading across the country – help those in need, no mater what.
In 1985, the Rev. Bill Starrs began a movement to provide free flight service to anyone who was in serious need. Today, the non-denominational, non-profit Pilots for Christ has chapters in 16 states and carries sick patients, family members and others in need of emergency assistance all over the country and even internationally.
Daleray joined the Wyoming chapter in 2009 after hearing about an informational meeting for prospective pilots.
“I’d always been looking for something like that (and), of course, there are other (organizations) out there, but Pilots for Christ fits the bill.
“Obviously, we run on 100 percent donations, and we don’t ask for anything in return from anyone that we fly. Sometimes there are family members that are able to help out, but we never ask for anything from anyone.”
The Wyoming chapter is the largest with 28 members and serves nearly two times as many patients each year as the rest of the country.
“Because of the business that I run (Double D Liquors) and because of the business that I was running in Sheridan,” Daleray explained, “it gave me enough flexibility that for the most part, if something comes up, I can go.
“My business in Douglas doesn’t need me there all of the time, so I’m just able to get away and make the flights and give back something.”
Fifty miles away in Casper, a young woman fights for her life.
She has a rare autoimmune disease, brought on by cancer, that is causing her own immune system to ruthlessly attack her vital organs.
Her inability to fight off infection has caused a series of problems with her lungs, her liver and even her brain. Epilepsy now plagues her system, causing periodic seizures.
Her face is pale, her breath short, and her steps calculated as she makes her way from the terminal to the tarmac. And while the illness has weakened her body, it has not weakened her spirit. Despite it all, an engaging gaze and bright smile are still the first two things you notice about Heather Street.
“The overall concern was are we missing an overall disease that was one thing instead of all of these separate issues that nobody had realized, or were they 20 different things that I really had the misfortune (of having) and had the worst luck in the world,” Heather said.
Her mother, Denise Willis, is with her at the airport when they meet Daleray. The two are putting the true meaning to lug-gage as they enter the terminal.
Denise is carrying four bags, a jacket, a pillow and a purse. Heather wields a Gatorade bottle, a satchel and two arms full of medical records.
With Daleray’s help, the group has just enough hands and just enough muscle to get the goods to the plane when suddenly jingle bells replace engine roar.
As Daleray loads the last of the luggage into the small four-seater Cesna, a shower of coins pours from Denise’s purse. Untold dollars worth of coins frantically scamper for their lives down the tarmac.
In every direction they roll, bobbing and weaving away from the would-be bankers.
“What the heck!” Daleray said in shock.
“Oh, my gosh, I am so sorry,” Denise replied.
“Any particular reason you’re carrying so much change,” Daleray joked.
Denise admitted all that change is for all those hospital vending machines.
Finally as the laughter and disbelief subsides, every coin is carefully retrieved and returned to its rightful home back in Denise’s purse, which is then stowed safely in the luggage hatch for take-off.
Daleray fired up the engine, made the turn to the runway, and soared off into the sky. Minnesota bound.
“There are a lot of these folks, I don’t know how they would have ever gotten to where they need to go,” Daleray said. “The majority of our flights are donated for medical reasons. You know, where there’s a will there’s always a way, but it sure does lift a huge burden off of them.
“How (else) could this gal have gotten to the Mayo Clinic for nothing, for free?
“Even if she would have driven, it’s a couple of days drive. And a lot of these people can’t be in a vehicle for two days.
“You know, the doctors are telling them find another aspect. Well, the best aspect is flying, and a lot of them can’t afford it.”
Several hours later, after some inclement weather, a little turbulence and a short layover, the trio was finally in Rochester.
‘A chance at life’
Since her arrival, Heather has been spending approximately 12 hours a day receiving test after test, after test, after test at the clinic. Including much-needed MRIs of her spine, abdomen and brain – tests Heather may not have received had she not had the help of Pilots for Christ.
“Pilots for Christ means to me, basically, a chance at life,” Heather said. “I mean it’s a chance at living longer with my family and my kids.
“Without an organization like this, we wouldn’t be able to afford coming out to a wonderful place like the Mayo Clinic and getting seen by these amazing doctors.
“They have some machines that have tests that can only be done in a few places in the world, and they are going to run one of those tests on me.
“I mean how important is something like that? It blew us away that they are going to do that (test) on me.
“If they didn’t have that organization and said, ‘Yes, Heather, you’re going to be the recipient of our organization. And, we are going to send you out there. And, we’re going to pay for you because you can’t afford it. And, we think that you are worthy,’ I wouldn’t be here right now,” Heather sobbed. “And what if something they find out I’m sick with (has) medication for it and it gives me even 10 more years?
“So I get to see my kids graduate from high school.
“Or get married and have their own kids someday.
“And I get to be a grandma.
“And I know someday I’m going to be in heaven and I get to watch them from heaven, but I still want to be here, with them, to help guide them on earth for as long as I can. And give them whatever motherly wisdom I can.
“The first day I was here someone on the free bus said, ‘Man, you think you’ve got it bad,’ and then you look at somebody next to you and you see somebody that’s got it worse. And yeah it’s the truth. So you gotta think positively, and that’s what it’s about, staying positive. And that’s just it, you do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
“I just hope people read this story and donate to Pilots for Christ. Then they’ll be blessed in return, because I think people are blessed when they give. So they’ll donate and then receive blessings in return, and it will start a chain reaction, and that’s the best I can hope for from this story.”
If that’s true, Daleray has certainly earned his fair share of good blessings over the past two years.
“One of the first flights I took was to take a little girl to go and have heart surgery,” Daleray said. “And then I was able to go back and pick her up after the surgery, so knowing that she got fixed and that every thing was hunky-dory. That was a pretty good feeling.
“I don’t see myself stopping. As long as financially I can continue operating an aircraft, which is very expensive, I’ll just keep flying.”