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Wings of Hope's Volunteer Pilots, Medics are Saving Lives One Flight at a Time

Wings of Hope's Volunteer Pilots, Medics are Saving Lives One Flight at a Time

From the Get to Know the 2021 Ladue News Charity Award Recipients series
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From the U.S., to the plains of Tanzania, to the Ecuadorian rainforest, to the most remote corners of Colombia, Wings of Hope is changing and saving lives through the power of aviation.

Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the 58-year-old global humanitarian nonprofit provides free U.S. medical air transport flights to people who need special care within a 900-mile radius of its St. Louis headquarters and partners with organizations in 10 countries around the world to offer medevac flights and health care access for remote communities.

“All of our pilots and medics are volunteers,” president and CEO Bret Heinrich says, noting the nonprofit has more than 350 volunteers. “We have an amazing collection of dedicated people who are bringing high-level skills to the organization.”

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Through 200 annual U.S. flights and countless transports around the world, Wings of Hope helps 70,000 people each year. “We are reaching people who are forgotten, with care that we take for granted,” Heinrich notes.

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Many patients become Wings of Hope “frequent flyers,” as their conditions require multiple rounds of treatment, from adults battling cancer to infants with orthopedic conditions. “We see these children grow up before our eyes,” Heinrich says. “One young patient, Elizabeth, had a condition that only allowed her to ‘army crawl’ – then she was in a wheelchair and then in leg braces. We look forward to seeing her run across the hangar and play like all kids do.”

Heinrich says the nonprofit’s pilots love flying patients – who often become family: “Each flight, we always try to have the same volunteers available, to give [the patient] a sense of security and family.”

A new initiative taking flight at Wings of Hope in recent years is aimed at building the future pipeline of global humanitarianism. With the help of Boeing and Maritz, the charity’s Soar Into STEM program introduces students to aviation careers. “Last year, students worked on an aircraft that was put into service in Paraguay,” Heinrich says. “They were able to see how the plane they touched with their hands, right here in St. Louis, is touching the lives of people around the world.”

Wings of Hope’s dedication to its mission reminds Heinrich of when President John F. Kennedy visited NASA before the moon landing. “He’s walking through the halls, asking people their roles, and there’s a janitor sweeping, and he says: ‘What do you do here, sir?’ and the janitor replies: ‘Mr. President, I’m here to put a man on the moon,’” Heinrich says. “It’s that kind of singular focus we have at Wings of Hope – everyone is here to change and save lives through the power of aviation.”

Wings of Hope, 18370 Wings of Hope Blvd., Chesterfield, 636-537-1302,

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