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Pilots for Christ fly for others

DOUGLAS, Wyo. — The sun seems to be taking its time rising into the morning sky over the Converse County Airport as Daleray Madewell begins his day.

Perhaps the sun is slowed by the chill of the changing seasons. Or perhaps it's the anticipation of the life-saving day ahead of him that makes everything seem to go slow.

None of that delays Madewell. He has an appointment to keep on this busy day in mid-October.

Madewell, one of 28 "charity pilots" in Wyoming in the Pilots for Christ program, is off this day to Minnesota.

"There's a young lady that's been sick, I guess, I'm not really sure what's going on," he said as he checked his plane. "She needs to get back to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for treatments or checkups or something.


"A lot of times I don't get too wrapped up in why they're going. That's not really for me to decide."

Madewell makes these transport flights on his own time and on his own dime. He won't take a cent for his services. In fact, he scarcely ever even receives any recognition. But his mindset is to help those in need, no matter what.

In 1985, the Rev. Bill Starrs began a movement to provide free flight service to anyone in serious need. Today, the nondenominational, nonprofit Pilots for Christ has chapters in 16 states and carries sick patients, family members and others in need of emergency assistance all over the country and even internationally.

Madewell joined the Wyoming chapter in 2009.

"I'd always been looking for something like that, (and), of course, there are other (organizations) out there, but Pilots for Christ fits the bill," he said. "Obviously, we run on 100 percent donations, and we don't ask for anything in return from anyone that we fly. Sometimes there are family members that are able to help out, but we never ask for anything from anyone."

The Wyoming chapter is the largest chapter, with 28 members, and serves nearly two times as many patients each year as the rest of the country.

Madewell runs a liquor business, but he doesn't need to be there all the time, so he has the flexibility to get away and make flights.

Fifty miles away, in Casper, a young woman, Heather Street, fights for her life. She has a rare autoimmune disease, brought on by cancer, that is causing her immune system to attack her vital organs. Her inability to fight off infection has caused a series of problems with her lungs, liver and brain.


"The overall concern was are we missing an overall disease that was one thing instead of all of these separate issues that nobody had realized, or were they 20 different things that I really had the misfortune (of having) and had the worst luck in the world?" Street said.

Her mother, Denise Willis, is with Street at the airport when they meet Madewell, who helps them onto the plane with their luggage and two armsful of medical records.

"There are a lot of these folks, I don't know how they would have ever gotten to where they need to go," Madewell said. "The majority of our flights are donated for medical reasons. You know, where there's a will there's always a way, but it sure does lift a huge burden off of them."

Several hours later, after some inclement weather, a little turbulence and a short layover, the trio was finally in Rochester. At the clinic, Street went through several days of testing, ones that she might not have gotten if not for the help of Pilots for Christ.

"Pilots for Christ means to me, basically, a chance at life," Street said. "I mean it's a chance at living longer with my family and my kids."

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