The first time someone asked Ed Boyer if he could take a patient with a rare disease to a specialized hospital in the tiny, single-engine plane owned by his Virginia flying club, he thought nothing of it. Nor did he think much of it the second time. Nor the third. It was only after flying several patients—often children whose families could not afford a regular flight—that he began to see a need. So in 1972, Boyer founded Mercy Medical Airlift, the nation's first medical-air-transportation charity. In the 35 years since, he has overseen the development of a well-organized national network of airlift services—the Air Charity Network—that flew more than 25,000 patients in 2007 alone. "Typically there is all kinds of money for medical research but not a dime to help people get there," says Boyer, 70, who took early retirement in 1992 to work full-time on the venture. Today more than 7,500 volunteer pilots have signed on; recently Mercy Medical Airlift began programs to help evacuees in the wake of national emergencies, and to transport military families affected by deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. As for Boyer, he stopped flying patients to devote himself to the larger picture. "I realized this wasn't going to become a national system with me flying them one at a time," he says. "Somebody had to put the thing together."
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