The medical options had run out in Ohio for 7-year-old Brandon Bartley, who has a rare bladder disease. But his parents couldn't afford the trip to Baltimore, where doctors hold out hope for a more normal life for him.
Brandon's mother, Deborah, was frantically trying to find a way to get him to Johns Hopkins Hospital when she learned about an organization called The Angel Planes and two pilots willing to shuttle the youth back and forth between Columbus and Baltimore.
"This is a fantastic program," said Brandon's father, Roger, as the Bartleys climbed out of a twin-engine Beechcraft plane yesterday morning at Baltimore County's Martin State Airport. "It was hard trying to find a way to get here. It was too expensive to fly commercial."
Brandon, quiet but energetic, bounded off the six-seat airplane clutching a teddy bear named Rotey dressed in an aviator vest and scarf, and shyly answered questions in front of television cameras that were there to record his visit.
Yes, he liked the flight. No, he wasn't nervous about his tests tomorrow, which will determine whether he should have the operation that would keep him hospitalized for six to eight weeks.
"Once you've had at least two operations, you get used to it," said Brandon, who has averaged more than one operation a year since birth.
Brandon has bladder exstrophy, which means he cannot hold his urine. The disease strikes about one in every 40,000 live births.
Brandon's father, a used-car salesman, said doctors in Columbus could only offer a few unattractive options, including having the youth wear a bag outside his body to collect the urine. That, Mr. Bartley believed, was not a good solution.
"That was really all they could do in Ohio," Mr. Bartley said. "My son is trying to get this corrected so he can lead his life in some kind of normalcy."
Tomorrow, Brandon will undergo a test to determine whether corrective surgery at Hopkins is desirable. The test itself requires surgery.
Two volunteer pilots, Ron Darlington and William Postiy, who live in Akron, Ohio, will shuttle the Bartleys back and forth for all their trips.
"It's a nice thing to do," said Mr. Postiy, when asked why he joined the volunteer flying program two years ago. It has 500 members nationwide and is based in Las Vegas. "I'm fortunate that I have three healthy daughters. I like to fly and this is a way to do that while helping someone else."
In Ohio, Mr. Postiy, 50, runs a food-service business in Canton. His partner on yesterday's trip, Mr. Darlington, 51, works for a trucking company. The two-hour flight from Columbus to Baltimore would have cost $350 an hour if it had been chartered.
Mr. Darlington said he makes about five flights a year, mainly to hospitals in Baltimore or Washington. Both pilots said there is a need for volunteers in Maryland.
The reward, they said, is just helping people, mainly children, who need the specialized medical care.
As Brandon and his father collected their luggage and prepared to head off to the hospital, Brandon walked over to the pilots, shook their hands and simply said, "Thanks for the ride."