Just a few years ago, Chris McLaughlin wasn’t sure whether he was going to live or not. Just a few weeks ago, he and his wife, Corrine, launched on an epic journey, flying from Cape Cod to Cape Horn in their Cessna Skyhawk.
The flight, dubbed Flight4Lives, is designed to raise awareness of about organ transplants.
A former Boeing 747 captain with British Airways, Chris almost died in early 2010 from liver and kidney failure due to an unknown childhood exposure to hepatitis. Corrine, a purser with the airline and a private pilot, had to face the ordeal with no warning, but found a support network at King’s College Hospital in London, where Chris spent many months in intensive care before he was given a liver transplant at what could only be described as the last minute.
He survived and during his recovery, he and his wife began planning the epic journey to celebrate life while, hopefully, raising awareness of the importance of organ donation.
“We want to try and make people think about how important organ donation is,” Chris said. “Every day, 18 Americans die because there aren’t enough organ donors. One donor can save eight lives and improve 75 others, so while we run around recycling plastic and glass, we throw away life.”
Becoming an organ donor is easy. For most people, you just have to tick a yes on a form at the Department of Motor Vehicles when renewing your driver’s license. You also can sign up online. So why don’t more people become donors?
“People seem to roll out the same few excuses from ‘they’ll let me die’ to ‘they won’t let me die’ to religious objections,” he said, noting another popular myth is “the bathtub full of ice thing.”
“We can definitely save lives,” he continued. “There is no cure that needs to be found or research that needs to be funded with huge galas. You simply have to pass on to someone else things that you’ll be done with by saying yes to a simple question on a driving license application or on a website.”
The pair created a website, Flight4Lives.com, where people can sign up to become organ donors. There’s also a way to donate to the cause, if you feel so inclined.
“We also hope that people might feel generous and donate money to King’s College Hospital in London, which saved my life,” he said, noting it is the world’s largest specialized liver transplant facility and conducts research that helps people all around the world. All donations are tax deductible. The couple emphasizes that all donations go straight to the hospital, as all expenses for the trip are being borne by the couple.
The couple began planning the journey in the bleakest days of Chris’ illness. “Corrine got me a map back when I was still very sick and a pen that was as long as a tank of gas,” he said.
The choice of flying from Cape Cod to Cape Horn was made with several factors in mind: “It’s the farthest we can get the plane without fitting ferry tanks. Plus Cape Cod to Cape Horn has a certain ring to it. And Nantucket, where we live much of the time when not in the UK, was famous for whaling ships that used to round Cape Horn for the fertile grounds in the Pacific. So it all fit. The struggle to round the Cape mirrored our struggle over the last two years.”
During the planning process, the couple began to reach out to the aviation community for help. And in true general aviation fashion, the GA community responded.
“We found out that Signature has FBOs all over Brazil and asked for their help. Ed Mullen of Beacon Equity Partners offered their help. The artist Paul Arsenault painted a marvelous image of us in our little Blue Jay flying over the Amazon, which kept us focused and gave us a visual element. We got overwhelmed by the paperwork so we asked Air Journey to help with the permits and stuff. Then we asked Jeppesen for help with South American charts and they agreed, and found that Foreflight and Air Nav Pro and Std had a variety of helpful features, like Brazilian WAC charts and ONC charts. Prime Planes Naples helped us get the plane ready, while Rosen Sun Visors gave us a hand, and Lightspeed Headsets loaned us two wonderful pairs of headsets.”
The couple also asked “the intrepid” Bob Gannon, who was featured in a story last year in General Aviation News telling of his around the world ventures. “The wonderful Carol at AOPA insurance Agency found us coverage, and it all just came together with Palm Beach Avionics saving our bacon when a last minute failure threatened to delay our departure to the Bahamas.”
The journey finally launched in December, planning a route that will take them some 16,000 nautical miles over long stretches of open water, Amazonian rain forests, the Andes, and through Antarctic weather.
“Corrine does most of the flying while I have fun poking at buttons, taking pictures, and dealing with ATC,” Chris said. “Corrine makes very good decisions around weather, and we work very well as a team. She now has 600 or 700 hours and we did a coast to coast in 2009 before my untimely demise, so this is just like flying to LA and back, except three times longer.”
When I caught up with the couple, they had just spent “three wonderful days in Granada” and were planning to leave for Georgetown, Guyana, “where we hope to see Kaieteur Falls. Then, Cayenne, Fr. Guiana and Brazil.”
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