Mary Herndon wasn't overly concerned when she first started experiencing minor visual disturbances last spring. She wasn't in any pain and felt perfectly normal in every other way. But she decided to play it safe and had her doctor check things out. Unfortunately, her MRI revealed a large tumor on her brain stem.
Mary knew that she and her husband, Chris, would have the strength to accept whatever came next because of their faith. Originally high school sweethearts, Mary and Chris had discovered the non-profit organization FamilyLife about two decades into their life together. FamilyLife's Bible-based marriage and family resources and Weekend to Remember Conferences were pivotal both in their own family and in other families around them as well. Much like Angel Flight pilots, the Herndons realized there was more to life than living solely for their own benefit. They made a significant life shift when they joined the staff at the organization's Little Rock headquarters in 2011. Life for them since that time has been dedicated to helping failing marriages survive and making good marriages even better.
Even with this solid foundation, telling their three children – Claire (21), Chloe (17), and Charlie (13) – about Mary's tumor was hard for all kinds of reasons. With brain surgery, not only is there a possibility of not surviving tumor removal, but the chances of life-altering side effects after waking up were a significant possibility as well. This reality was hard for the whole family. In fact, Chloe had planned to leave in early July for a month-long internship in Burkina Faso (in West Africa), but Mary's pending brain surgery significantly factored into her decision to postpone the trip.
On July 17, just a couple of months after first learning about her tumor, Mary and Chris flew from their Little Rock home to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for surgery. Thankfully, their case worker at MD Anderson had made them aware of Angel Flight early in their medical journey. After their request was approved, Angel Flight South Central pilot George Wilkerson, also based in Little Rock, met the Herndons early on that July morning to head to the airport. Shortly after, Wilkerson and his Cirrus SR22 safely delivered the Herndons safely to Houston to prep for Mary's brain surgery. She says she was extremely grateful to avoid the usual stresses, expense, and most importantly the germs of commercial travel.
Throughout the flight, George kindly chatted with the Herndons about mutual acquaintances and even gave Mary a mini-lesson about private air travel – which took her mind off of what the next few days would hold.
Fortunately, the surgery several days later was very successful and her pathology turned out to be benign. The whole experience was filled with what Mary referred to as "blessings" from the provision of Angel Flight South Central, the care of MDA staff, to friends driving 14 hours to help care for her. Another unexpected surprise was the complimentary wash and style that MD Anderson provided at its patient-only salon – a much-welcomed gift after having to shave part of her head to prep for surgery. Leaving the hospital looking almost like herself, she says, was very special.
Mary has since recovered quite well: subsequent scans have shown that the tumor is completely gone and no additional treatments are necessary. Even though she has suffered complete hearing loss on the tumor side of her head, she usually responds with a playful smile as she tells others "it is ok – I have a spare ear and the deaf ear still holds my earrings perfectly!"
Looking back on the experience, Mary reflects, "I am very grateful for a very BIG God who makes His love and nearness known in tangible ways. It is fitting that Angel Flight chose that specific name as they certainly represent the goodness and provision to patients, like me, and our families during the most vulnerable days of our lives. It matters. Thank you, Angel Flight!"