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Flight group flies Massapequa man home from surgery in Baltimore to set milestone for flights

Christopher Kowalewski is helped from a plane by

Christopher Kowalewski is helped from a plane by pilot Doug Wohl at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma on April 9, 2014. Credit: Ed Betz

Patient Airlift Services, a Farmingdale nonprofit that arranges free air transportation for individuals requiring medical diagnosis, treatment or follow-up, marked its 5,000th flight Wednesday when a small plane safely delivered a Long Island resident from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to Long Island MacArthur Airport.

"It was a huge team effort," said executive director Eileen Minogue, who is one of eight staff members for the four-year-old program.

Patient Airlift Services, founded in 2010, makes about 200 volunteer flights per month for patients across the Northeast, according to Minogue. Currently one of the fastest growing volunteer pilot organizations, the program delivered the first anesthesia machine to Haiti in 2010 in the aftermath of an earthquake, Minogue said.

Wednesday's milestone flight began three days ago as a post on the Facebook page of "Massapequa Mommas Market," a group dedicated to buying and selling their children's clothes. Lisa Kowalewski of Massapequa wrote to the organization and asked members to pray for her husband Christopher's six-hour surgery for intestinal problems.

"I can't be with him because I need to be here with my 5 children . . . We are all devastated," she wrote.

Lisa Kowalewski didn't tell the "Mommas" that her family was struggling to afford her husband's ride home from the hospital in Baltimore due to medical expenses.

Four hundred comments on the group's website, and one phone call later, Minogue, a fellow "Massapequa Mommas" member, had arranged Christopher Kowalewski's flight home.

"It was even sweeter than normal because he's from my same town," Minogue said. "The great thing about social media is that I got to help this family that, turns out, lives three blocks away from me."

After 12 days in the hospital, Christopher Kowalewski, 38, and his mother, Venilda, 67, boarded a four-seat Cirrus aircraft and returned to Long Island.

Kowalewski shared an emotional reunion at the airport with his wife and two of their five children, who wore smiles from ear to ear.

"Daddy, is your boo-boo gone?" asked daughter Giovanna Kowalewski, 4.

He said he hoped so.

Patient Airlift Services aims "to help alleviate the transportation issues that create a financial burden for families in need so they can focus on medical care and treatment," the program said in a statement.

"It's more than just the flight. It's part of the healing process," said Minogue.

Pilots must accrue more than 500 hours, roughly one year, of flying before they are able to serve the organization.

Douglas Wohl, pilot of the 5,000th flight, has flown more than 20 times for the program.

"Pilots are more than happy to donate our time and efforts," he said. "It's exciting to be able to help someone out."

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