By Rob Finfrock
After being diagnosed with – and beating – leukemia at just five months of age, Reef (shown at left) is now battling a rare form of skin cancer on his face and scalp that requires specialized treatment at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, 2,000 miles from his family’s temporary home in Los Angeles, CA. Such a journey may have been close to impossible were it not for the support from dozens in the business aviation community, including CJP.
Robin Eissler is president of Texas-based Jet Quest and the founder of the Sky Hope Network, an organization that for 10 years has utilized “the powerful network of Business Aviation to solve problems during emergencies and urgent situations.” Eissler first became aware of Reef’s situation through the South African family’s Facebook page.
“He’s a fighter, you can tell that,” she told the Carnesons during a recent televised segment on Los Angeles NBC affiliate KNBC-4. “If all we need to do is give him a flight to give him more of a chance, that’s what we’ll do.”
Sky Hope Network arranges between 5-10 such flights annually, coordinating humanitarian relief missions as well as specialized medical transportation unable to be filled by other charitable aviation organizations. “We don’t handle the volume of flights performed by Angel Flight, Corporate Angel Network, or PALS (Patient Airlift Services),” Eissler told CJP. “We’re the fallback, specializing in more complicated cases.”
Each mission arranged through Sky Hope Network is assigned a dedicated flight coordinator, who secures the donor flight and contacts others in the business aviation industry to contribute services in support of the mission. The search for a plane and pilot for Reef and his family led Eissler to post the request on the CJP Member Forums.
CJP Member John Hinshaw, who’s flown similar charitable missions since the mid-1990s and tries to perform such flights “at least every two months,” saw the request and initially agreed to fly a portion of the trip from his home base in Indiana. He later agreed to perform the entire flight after a second plane and crew couldn’t be located.
With plane and pilot arranged, Sky Hope Network next turned to locating resources on the ground to assist with the mission. Kandi Spangler, sales vice-president for JetBrokers, Inc. and board member with the Colorado Aviation Business Association (CABA), went above and beyond in that effort.
“Kandi and CABA did a lot for our stops in Denver area,” Hinshaw recalled. “I believe they solicited members to make direct contributions to buy fuel at Centennial Airport (APA) for the leg from Indiana to Colorado, and [Kandi] even bought me lunch.”
Hinshaw flew to Los Angeles on Feb. 14. Signature Flight Support at APA provided discounted fuel, purchased through contributions from CABA, and donated catering for the flight. On the trip back from L.A. the next day, Landmark Aviation at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (BJC) filled Hinshaw’s tanks for the flight back to Lunken Airport (LUK) in Cincinnati, where Landmark’s FBO “deeply discounted” the fuel for his trip back home to Indiana with the balance covered by Sky Hope Network.
“I’m fortunate to have the ability and the aircraft to take these missions for people in need,” Hinshaw said. “Reef couldn’t be subjected to the airline environment due to his compromised immune system, [but] he was happy as could be onboard my Mustang. The entire family was wonderful to fly with.”
Reef’s experiences have become widely known throughout local media in the Cincinnati area, and around the globe through the family’s website – www.savebabyreef.com – and a series of YouTube videos. Although the family originally hoped to fly back to Los Angeles by the end of February, the hospital announced Feb. 19 that Reef will stay at the facility for at least another week while doctors finalize his treatment for “complex, multiple medical problems going on simultaneously.”
In happier news, Reef, his sister, and his parents were recently able to delight in their first-ever snowfall in Cincinnati… and when the family is able to return home, Sky Hope Network will be there to help in any way they can.
“Sky Hope Network exists because of people donating their airplanes and themselves in times of need,” Eissler concluded. “CJP has been a tremendous resource for us, and we appreciate everyone’s support.”