'It’s lifesaving': Volunteer pilots make stop in Sask. raising money for medical care flights

Brian Button has used Hope Air to fly to Toronto for cancer treatment since 2015. (Miriam Valdes-Carletti/CTV Saskatoon)

A group of volunteer pilots flying across western Canada to raise money for patients who need flights to access medical care made a stop in Saskatoon on Wednesday morning. 

Hope Air is aiming to raise $400,000 to provide 1,600 flights for patients.To date, the charity has raised almost a million dollars and has provided 3,600 travel arrangements. 

Brain Button from Saskatoon is one of those patients. He has a rare form of throat cancer that required him to travel to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto.

“Being out of work, I didn’t have the money to pay for flights. Driving and trains were out of the question because my life was in danger,” Button said.

He later contacted Hope Air, and has been able to take more than six flights to Toronto for his treatments since 2015.

Button said the experience is the “best thing that’s ever happened” to him. 

“I didn’t have to stress about finding money for a flight. They took care of everything. It was a pleasure to feel like somebody and they treated me like they really cared,” Button said. “It’s lifesaving.” 

During the charity’s ‘Give Hope Wings’ fundraiser stop in Saskatoon, Button made a donation to say thank you for the help they’ve given him over the years. 

Dave McElroy is the chief pilot of the fundraiser and said the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for more flights for patients to get the care they need. 

“These flights that we do are really about raising money and raising awareness of Hope Air,” McElroy said. 

Their last stop is in Nelson, B.C. on Thursday. With the fundraiser wrapping up, he said the support has been “overwhelming.” 

Basie Spies has been a physician in Yorkton for 26 years and is also an expedition captain for the fundraiser.

During his time as a physician, he said he’d never heard of Hope Air and wants to raise awareness for the cause in Saskatchewan.

“There is definitely a huge need for patients, especially in the rural communities. I’ve flown a patient twice and it was the most important flight of my life,” Spies said. 

Hope Air is aiming to have a cross-Canada fundraiser next year with the goal of raising one million dollars.

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