At the Nelson airport, Genevieve Sauviat, left, whose family has benefitted from the medical charity Hope Air, with pilot and Nelson native Dave McElroy, Hope Air’s founder. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

At the Nelson airport, Genevieve Sauviat, left, whose family has benefitted from the medical charity Hope Air, with pilot and Nelson native Dave McElroy, Hope Air’s founder. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Hope Air touches down in Nelson

The charity raises money for medical flights for those in need

When Genevieve Sauviat’s son was four months old in 2004, he became so ill she had to take him to a hospital in Vancouver.

There he was diagnosed with GLUT1 deficiency syndrome, a genetic disease that causes brain development delays, seizures and movement disorders.

The Nelson family was faced with many more trips to Vancouver for treatments and had no idea how they would afford the travel.

“A social worker approached us and told us about Hope Air,” Sauviat says. “So we were able to use Hope Air to fly back and forth. And because we were low income at the time, it was really helpful.”

Since then the family has used the service 15 times and will continue to fly occasionally for follow-up appointments and tests.

Sauviat’s son is 17 now.

“He has some challenges, but he’s doing great,” she says.

Hope Air is a national charity that provides free flights and accommodations for rural Canadians in financial need who need to reach medical care far from home. Since its inception in 1986, Hope Air has provided more than 155,000 travel arrangements for patients.

Most of those flights are on regular airlines, and a few are flown by volunteer pilots in small planes.

Give Hope Wings

This summer 15 volunteer pilots flew across western Canada in Hope Air’s fourth annual fundraiser Give Hope Wings, stopping in various communities to raise awareness and money. In its previous three years, the event raised $900,000.

“This year we were originally going to go from Boundary Bay, B.C. to Churchill, Man., and back. But due to smoke and COVID-19, we switched and we actually launched from Drumheller, (Alta.),” said Give Hope Wings co-founder Dave McElroy of Kelowna in an interview at the Nelson airport on Sept. 3.

McElroy is the chief pilot of this year’s Give Hope Wings event. Four pilots on this leg of the expedition landed in Nelson on Sept. 2, ready to fly home to various places in Western Canada.

“Now we’re landed in Nelson, and this is actually the termination,” McElroy said, “which is very appropriate because Nelson is my home town.”

Passion for flying

McElroy said had always wanted to fly across the Atlantic. In 2014, he did that and more. He flew his plane around the world and during the trip decided he wanted to find a way to serve humanity at the same time.

“Hope Air combines my passion for flying and aviation with doing good for other people,” he said.

Donors to the charity include corporate sponsors and private individuals.

This year’s fundraising objective for Give Hope Wings is $400,000, enough to fund up to 1,600 free medical flights. So far that goal has been met and donations are still coming in.

Donations to Hope Air can be made at https://hopeair.ca/.