Compassion in the Clouds

On Monday, February 20, I boarded Alaska Airlines flight 665 from Dallas at 8:20 a.m., accompanied by two ministry friends, traveling to a conference in Seattle. Back in our own small town of De Queen, Arkansas, my wife had scheduled a 9:15 appointment with our friend and family physician Dr. Jason Lofton for our younger daughter Mia Beth.

rc-bess-snow

Riley Cate (L) & Mia Beth (R)

She is eight, and was diagnosed with severe asthma at age two. Over the past four years, she has been hospitalized five times for respiratory distress. During her kindergarten year, she spent the better part of three weeks in several stays in Arkansas Children’s Hospital. One of those trips was via Angel One, Children’s med flight service.

Since I had an early flight on Monday morning, I had left home on Sunday afternoon to spend Sunday night with friends in Dallas. During the night, Mia Beth’s cold had gone from bad to worse. We were concerned, but it had been two years since her last hospitalization. I decided to go ahead and make my trip to Seattle.

In the doctor’s office back in De Queen, Mia Beth’s pulse ox (percentage of oxygen saturation) had dropped into the low 80’s (normal is over 95%). Dr. Lofton quickly made the decision to transfer Mia Beth to our local hospital via ambulance, and then on to Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, about 120 miles away. I was somewhere over Colorado when I saw this image from the emergency room back home.

bess-rc-dq-er

In the plane over Colorado, I told my friend Doug what was going on, and then sank back into my seat between two total strangers. Mia Beth’s condition wasn’t life threatening. We had been through this a number of times before. Arkansas Children’s Hospital is a world-class facility. I knew everything would be fine, but Seattle is a long way from Little Rock when your daughter is in the hospital there.

Without my even knowing, Doug had quietly explained my situation to the flight attendants. About 20 minutes later, two of them told me they were sorry that I was having such a rough day, that they had spoken to the captain, and that Alaska was doing everything possible to get me to Little Rock as soon as possible. They asked me to have a seat and they would let me know when they had a plan. Soon after, one of them handed me this slip of paper and said the captain had everything worked out.

change-info

Alaska had arranged for me to be on their first flight back to Dallas. But not only that. They also arranged for me to fly from Dallas to Little Rock (five hours by car). 

But here’s the kicker: Alaska Air doesn’t even fly to Little Rock. American Airlines is a sister airline of Alaska, and the incredible people at Alaska arranged for American to fly me to Little Rock, at no additional cost to me.

Once on the ground in Seattle, the captain introduced me to a very professional representative named Bryan Andrews, who gave me my boarding passes and asked me to walk with him to a waiting area. Bryan escorted me to the Alaska VIP lounge and set me up in a private conference room. He invited me to make myself at home, charge my devices, call anybody anywhere on their phone, and help myself to lunch and drinks upstairs. Bryan gave me his personal cell number in case there was anything else he could do for me. He told me he didn’t want me to have to think about anything except my daughter.

Arriving in Dallas, I had just 14 minutes to make my connection in a different terminal for my American flight to Little Rock. I made my connection, and some great friends met me at the Little Rock airport and drove me on to Children’s where I finally got to see my Mia Beth about 10:00 p.m.

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We spent the next four nights in the hospital, and the staff at Children’s was fantastic as usual.

We were discharged on Friday afternoon. On doctor’s orders, she has to stay home from school all next week, but she is recovering well.

All of that is a good story with a happy ending. But this is what makes it a great story, at least to me. On Monday, we were about 30 minutes from landing in Seattle when one of the flight attendants named Leah came to my seat.

She was the same one who had given me my flight information just a few moments before. She said she knew I was on my way to a ministry conference, and that her own father had been a pastor, and when he passed away, she had been given his visitation book.

visitation-book

She said, “I marked a passage for you that I thought might provide some comfort for you today. I’m praying for you and your daughter.” It was a Gospel passage about Jesus healing a sick child. The foreword of the book reads…

“Because we need God to keep coming to us, we need visitation. Members of the body of Christ need to go to one another and share the Word that opens our narrow hearts to all the blessings that come from the faith, hope and love in Christ Jesus.”

I simply want to convey my sincere thanks to Alaska Airlines for the culture of compassionate professionalism that empowered their people to care for me so well. A special thanks to Bryan Andrews in Seattle for his calming presence and personal hospitality. But most of all, my deepest appreciation to Leah, who spoke comfort to my hurting heart with the words of Christ at 30,000 feet. Your father would be proud.

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