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For pediatrician Michael Peters, his vol­unteer job is intense under normal circumstances. Several days a week, he climbs into the cockpit of his 4-seat, single-engine plane and flies wherever is needed to help people access life-saving medical treatment.

With the world practically shut down, these flights are more critical than ever.

“Breast cancer doesn’t know there’s a pandemic,” says Peters, a pilot for Angel Flight NE, a nonprofit that flies patients to the medical care they need, free of charge. Before the pandemic, Angel Flight NE transported anyone in need of serious medical treatment, but now they’re restricted to patients whose treatment can’t wait for stay-at-home orders to lift.

“Kids are still going to get appendicitis and need emergency surgery,” he adds. “There are things that simply can’t be put on hold.”

So when a breast cancer patient needed a ride home from Baltimore to Ithaca after che­motherapy in March, Peters, a Berlin native, was waiting.

Because these patients are already at a higher risk of contracting the virus, pilots take extreme precaution. Like all first responders, Peters wears gloves and medical masks on the job. Although aircrafts like his don’t allow for six feet of distancing, the small size allows the air to circulate and refresh every few minutes.

“As a doctor, I feel secure in the measures we’re taking,” he says. “But I’m still terrified that a patient will catch something from me that I don’t know I have.”

“Historically, in times of crisis, pilots like us have been the ones who can provide services that big airlines just can’t,” he says. “Now, when large-scale travel just isn’t as safe, we can help people access the medical treatment they need.”

May 2020
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