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Houston Ground Angels Provide Free Transportation

Houston Ground Angel Donna Zimmerman (left) provided transportation for a mother and son for his treatment at the Texas Medical Center.

Houston Ground Angel Donna Zimmerman (left) provided transportation for a mother and son for his treatment at the Texas Medical Center.

Volunteers help out-of-town patients get to Houston medical facilities

By Virginia Black

Anyone whose life has been touched by cancer or any life-threatening illness usually appreciates having a helping hand with expenses and lowering stress levels. Volunteers with the Houston Ground Angels understand all of this and more.

Ground Angel volunteers, who hail from all parts of the Houston metroplex, provide complimentary transportation for patients coming to Houston for various types of medical treatment. Transportation from area airports to Houston-area clinics and medical centers, including the world-renowned Texas Medical Center, or nearby lodging are part of Houston Ground Angels services. Transportation is also provided to caregivers, even if the patient is not traveling with them.

“We do not restrict ourselves to just the Texas Medical Center or just cancer patients or any particular airport,” said Bill Barnes, chairman of the board of Houston Ground Angels. “We serve all airports that are reasonably reachable. I personally have picked up patients from Hooks to Brazoria, and from West Houston to Ellington.”

Although the exact number isn’t known, hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe arrive in Houston annually for medical treatment.

Houston Ground Angels provides transportation for more than 3,000 people each year from private and public area airports; however, the need is three or four times that number. “We are always looking for volunteers to help meet the need,” Barnes said.

Many patients are not able to travel a long way by car, and public transportation around Houston can be a challenge when they are not feeling well. A parent bringing a child here for treatments may not be able to rent a car. Plus, about one-third of patients come here alone.

“Even if a patient has insurance and/or funds for treatments, the question is how to manage transportation to Houston, meals and lodging, which are problematic and can be expensive,” Barnes said.

Many organizations provide lodging, meals or even air transportation for patients. For example, organizations of private pilots provide round-trip flights to Houston at no cost. Also, corporations allow patients to have seats on their company planes when flying to Houston.

However, wherever patients land at private or public airports, cab fares can easily run close to $100 one way.

“Also, those who come to Houston for the first few times usually find it intimidating and bewildering. It can all be very stressful, which is something they do not need,” Barnes said.

But when a Houston Ground Angel picks up a patient, they get more than a ride — they get a friend who knows the city and can provide the patient with additional information.

Each day, Houston Ground Angels’ two Mission Coordinators send out emails to volunteers with a list of needed missions, and volunteers sign up for the ones most convenient for them. A mission is providing transportation for a patient.

“Volunteers choose missions that fit their schedules, making volunteering very convenient. It is very rewarding,” said Mary Hutto, mission coordinator and volunteer for Houston Ground Angels.

Volunteers include cancer survivors, retired folks and others who have a few hours a week or month and want to lend a helping hand.

“This is my way of giving back. In helping these patients, we find friendships, laughter, gratitude and inspiration,” said Claudia Burch, a volunteer and board member.

The nonprofit organization and its founder have received numerous honors and awards, such as Jefferson and CNN Hero awards and appreciation letters from the president of MD Anderson and a former U.S. President.

For more information or to volunteer, please visit houstongroundangels.org or call 281-900-7377.

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