A Pair of Enterprising Angels Are Giving Cancer Patients a Much-Needed Lift

updated 06/20/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/20/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

For cancer patients, the staggering price of treatment and care is almost as frightening as the disease itself. Health insurance may defray some of the costs, but there is one expense that most plans don't provide for: long-distance travel. That's where Priscilla Blum and Jay Weinberg come in. Blum and Weinberg are the founders of the Corporate Angel Network (CAN), a nonprofit organization that has persuaded some 165 companies to donate the use of empty seats on their corporate aircraft to cancer patients in need of transportation to or from treatment centers around the country. "Our policy," says Weinberg, 65, "is only to accept a seat on a routine business flight. We're not asking the company to lend us their plane."

Blum, 58, is a recovered cancer patient. A free-lance writer and a licensed pilot, she conceived of CAN two years ago at New York's Westchester County Airport, where she keeps her single-engine Comanche. "There are probably more corporate airplanes based there than at any airport in the country," she explains. "I knew many were taking off only half full." With the support and business know-how of Weinberg, a Westchester car-rental franchise owner and a former cancer patient, CAN got off the ground just before Christmas Eve in 1981, when it flew a young patient at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center home to Michigan for the holidays. "We haven't done a sentimental journey like that since then," says Blum "except in a way they all are."

Requests for flights usually come to Blum and Weinberg through the American Cancer Society, a physician or directly from the patient. Patients, who may travel with a companion, must be ambulatory in order to qualify, and a doctor must vouch for the need for the trip. CAN requires all prospective travelers to make backup commercial reservations but estimates it provides free flights about 30 percent of the time. In 18 months of operation, it has transported more than 50 patients.

Although the organization received a presidential commendation last October, Blum and Weinberg say they have only just begun. They hope someday to have an expanded coast-to-coast service using the aircraft of some 2,700 companies. "These flights do three things," says Weinberg. "They get the patient to the proper center or home in comfort, they save the patient money, and, most important, they show that someone cares."

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