Guardian ‘Angel’: Resident transports more than 800 patients for medical care
Dartmouth resident Richard Jacobs loves to fly.
But rather than spending his time tooling around in his Bonanza for fun or going for what pilots call a “hundred dollar hamburger” — flying out for lunch and back — he’s been donating his services to those in need.
For the past 25 years, Jacobs has flown more than 800 patients to hospital appointments with Angel Flight NE (Northeast), a nonprofit that provides free flights to those who need access to medical care.
Jacobs and the other volunteer pilots donate their time and fuel to get people where they need to go for all kinds of non-emergency medical care.
“It’s for checkups, or treatment,” the former lawyer explained. “We’ve had patients where they have to go for chemo…The heartbreaking ones are children I'm taking up to Shriners — burns. It’s very emotional.”
He flies missions all over the northeastern US, and although he usually doesn’t ask what they’re for — “It’s none of my business what their medical issues are,” he said — he often finds out.
In one memorable instance, Jacobs said, he brought a single human kidney from Baltimore to Boston for transplant.
And he’s even brought the patients to the organs as well.
He said he once got a call at 6:30 a.m. to bring an 18-month-old child from Providence to Pittsburgh for a liver transplant — but they needed to get there by noon.
“We got them in Providence at 8:30 am, had them in Pittsburgh by 11,” Jacobs said, noting that the child had his new liver by the afternoon. “It was a once in a lifetime experience for me.”
Jacobs said that he always wanted to fly before getting his license in 1982.
One day, he laughed, “my wife finally said ‘Stop talking about it and go do it’ — so I did!”
Although he’s an amateur pilot, the 75-year-old has more than 5,000 hours and his instrument rating, which allows him to fly in low visibility conditions.
After retiring in 2002 from his career as a lawyer in Boston, he moved to Dartmouth, where he now tries to fly at least one mission every week out of the New Bedford airport.
Angel Flight NE recognized Jacobs for his 800th flight with a certificate and a spotlight in a recent email newsletter to members and supporters.
“He has been incredibly instrumental in supporting our patients especially through the pandemic,” wrote Angel Flight NE President Larry Camerlin. “We are always so grateful to our volunteer pilots — like Rich — for generously donating their time, fuel, planes and compassion.”
Jacobs said the most challenging thing for him, as for most pilots, is the weather.
“I start watching the weather two days ahead,” he noted. “If in doubt, I have to cancel the mission. And the patients have to understand that.”
“It’s not like an airline where you go above the weather — you’re in the weather,” he added. “The hardest thing is having to make a weather decision.”
The pandemic has changed little about Jacobs’ missions, except he now gives his passengers disposable ear plugs instead of headsets for the noise, and disinfects the rear seats after each flight.
And he said he will keep flying as long as he can, perhaps even joining the United Flying Octogenarians — “an actual organization!” — when he turns 80.
With a flight physical every year including a full barrage of medical tests, he added, “I’ll know when it’s time to stop flying.”
But for now, he said, helping people always makes him feel good.
“I get to enjoy what I’m doing and help other people at the same time,” said Jacobs. “It’s a win-win situation.”
“The people I'm taking, they shouldn’t have to worry about [getting to] a medical center,” he added. “That should be the least of their problems. They’ve got other things to worry about!”
To learn more about Angel Flight NE, visit www.angelflightne.org.