Two area doctors are going way above the call of duty. When they're not saving lives on the job, they're taking to the sky.
Topeka doctors Eric Voth and John Evans are both pilots in their spare time. How they use that passion has become proof angels really do have wings.
Ask Annell Deggins. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, she and her husband were trapped in their home, not far from where a levee eventually failed. Annell says the water kept getting higher and higher. Her husband, John, had advanced Alzheimer's disease and was blind. With his dementia, he refused to leave the home. Not wanting to leave him behind, Annell quickly scrawled a message on a sheet to hang outside. The water was rushing so quickly into the house, she couldn't open any doors. A neighbor helped her punch a hole in the wall to get up to the attic, where hopefully they'd be safe.
The Deggins spent five days there before the Coast Guard could get them out. They were taken to a nursing home in Atlanta, but their family, daughter Shirley Johnson and her husband Rodney, were in Topeka. Shirley says the Red Cross was offering families money, but no one had the equipment to bring her dad home, given his medical condition. A commercial flight wasn't an option.
A woman from Shirley's church called Billard Airport, where Dr. John Evans happened to be taxiing up the runway.
His day job is high-risk obstetrics at Stormont-Vail, but over the past thirty years, he's used his pilot's license and plane to make hundreds of flights, helping people get medical care out of town, like chemotherapy or special surgeries, or get home when their condition makes a commercial flight too risky.
Evans says sometimes being able to get to the doctor or hospital is a barrier. He says the organizations he's worked with help complete the gaps and make things possible that otherwise might not be. He and Voth currently volunteer through the Angel Flight organization.
Evans admits it does have a professional benefit in that he gets to hear the other side of medicine, but personally he says it's rewarding to feel like you've accomplished something for people who appreciate it.
To the Johnsons and Deggins, it meant even more. They call Evans an angel - an angel with wings to bring Annell and John home. Sadly, John passed away in April. Thanks to that flight from Evans, he spent his last months with loved ones.
Shirley says to have them both her parents in her life one more time, knowing so many people lost their lives, was a blessing.
Though the Deggins' flight was arranged through a church, Angel Flight did mobilize its efforts to help Katrina victims, too. You can learn more about the organization at www.angelflightcentral.org.