Lifeline pilots lifesaver for area family

By Audrey Williams

July 24, 2012 Updated Jul 24, 2012 at 6:29 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill -- Ross Wear, of Bloomington, has been a lifeline pilot for 4 years and already he has gone on over 80 missions. Wear said he started volunteering as a way to get in more flying time.

"It quickly grew into more of passion for all of these people that we get to help," said Wear.

About 2 months ago we told you the story of a young woman who was preparing for pancreas surgery. After watching our story officials with Lifeline Pilots contacted the Ihnow family offering their help.

19-year-old Tia Ihnow and her mother are heading to the University of Minnesota Medical Center Fairview. They both suffer from a pancreas gene mutation. Friday Tia will undergo a 10 hour total pancreatectomy with auto-eyelet cell transplantation.

"This procedure is going to enable her to have no more pain. She'll never be diabetic. She can go on and go to college, get married, have children," said Tia's mother Lauren Ihnow.

To get to the hospital from their Washington home its about an 8 hour drive, and that is where lifeline pilots offered their free service cutting it down to less than 2 hours.

"They cannot fully understand how much that means to a family like us, being able to not have to worry about that expense, or time getting up here," said Lauren Ihnow.

"This is just a nice easy way to get there, and it takes a little stress off the family," said Lifeline Pilot Executive Director Karen Halverson.

Halverson said for a patient to qualify they must have a financial need and have to be stable and willing to fly in a small aircraft. Their 550 volunteer pilots also have qualifications.

"They must be FAA certified, have proof of insurance, have 250 pilot and command hours on top of their flight instruction hours and just be willing to give of themselves and their flying experience," said Halverson.

As for Tia her favorite part of the trip was getting back on solid ground.

"I was a little scared at first, but once I got up there I had really a good time," said Tia Ihnow.

She is ready to tackle her next hurdle now that the trip to Minnesota is taken care thanks to the generosity of the Wear and the Lifeline Pilot program.

The Lifeline Pilots were founded in 1981. The are based at Byerly Aviation in Peoria, but they fly from the Rocky Mountains to the east coast.

They are funded through private donors, foundations, and corporations.

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