A recent Angel Flight reconnected family members kept apart by the coronavirus.
John Carrell has been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic like many people.
He's been working, albeit a bit differently than usual. He's kept in touch with his mom, Lanell, through video chatting. His 5-year-old son, Thomas, has been schooled from home.
But in one way, John is different than many people. When he goes to work, he makes personal protective equipment (PPE) to help health care workers dealing with COVID-19.
As part of that work, he and Thomas recently got a chance to deliver PPE to somone they hadn't seen in a long time – Lanell.
'A way to help'
Lanell, a recreational therapist at North Texas State Hospital in Wichita Falls, plans therapeutic activities for the patients and works with the facility's medical staff. In her role, she doesn't need to use the face shields and other PPE her son helps create.
Even if she did, John said, that would not be the only reason for his involvement in the work of the West Texas 3D COVID-19 Relief Consortium.
"It was bigger than that," said John, an assistant professor of engineering in Texas Tech University's Honors College and one of the consortium's founding members. "It wasn't just to try to personally protect my mom – it was being able to help all medical professionals.
"With the way the supply chain has been stretched, and with the surges that were going on in New York and California, it seemed like a lot of personal protective equipment was going to those places. Even the medical facilities here were having a hard time getting PPE. That has sort of subsided, but during that time, places like the North Texas State Hospital really had no avenue. They'd be put on a waitlist for face shields that would be there later in the year, and that wouldn't be good for them. So, this was just a way to help them out, at least briefly, until they can get their regular PPE."
Continuing their work
The effort has been a huge success. It has now supplied more than 5,000 face shields to health care workers throughout the region, even as far away as Wichita Falls and Abilene, thanks to a group of pilots who volunteer their time and private airplanes to deliver the PPE through Angel Flights.
The consortium also has partnered with similar groups in Midland and El Paso to continue to provide PPE throughout West Texas for as long as it's needed.
"Right now, our focus is on seeing where the demand and the need are for things like this," John said. "It's been a couple of months now, and it seems that some of these supply shortages aren't happening like they did before, so we're turning some of our efforts to actually having a stockpile of face shields for later in the year in case there's another surge."
Members of the consortium sometimes ride along on the Angel Flights to help with the delivery process. John, a Wichita Falls native, volunteered for a recent flight to his hometown. As a special treat, he brought Thomas along for the ride.
John and Scott Gloyna, a former Air Force navigator, loaded up Gloyna's Cirrus 22 with face shields and intubation chambers. Then all three climbed aboard. Thomas, in the backseat, was thrilled.
"I don't think he really had imagined how the flight was going to be," John said. "He was really excited when we got into the plane and he got to put on the headset, and we could talk and see everything. It's a lot different on a smaller aircraft than the big commercial airlines he's done before. He really enjoyed it."
A familiar face
After they landed at the airport in Wichita Falls, the trio waited while representatives of the local health care facilities arrived, one by one, to pick up their boxes of PPE. Before long, John and Thomas saw a familiar face: Lanell came to pick up some face shields for her colleagues at North Texas State Hospital.
"That was something," John said. "We missed out on Mother's Day and Easter and some of those holidays when we would normally either go see her or have her come visit us. We knew that wasn't really a possibility this year because of the coronavirus.
"We had done video chats and everything, but being there is a totally different thing. As much as we can sort of replace human contact with our loved ones with Zoom or FaceTime or whatever, it really can't beat having them in the same room and giving them a hug."
After all the PPE was distributed, Gloyna, John and Thomas got back aboard for the flight home. John let Thomas sit in the front seat this time, but the day's excitement soon caught up with the 5-year-old.
"It was fun to see him experience that," John said, "but I think it'd been a little bit too much for him. He actually fell asleep on the way back."
Reflecting on the day, John was grateful for the opportunity to see his mom in person and, like her, gratified by the work that will help so many more.
"She's been really proud of our efforts and really supportive, I would say," John said. "So, it was nice to see her and to help her out in that capacity.
"It was special. It was really neat."