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Ill teen's fight aided by flight
Kennedy Cobble talks about her experiences with Angel Flight during her battle with cancer. - photo by Autumn McBride


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In a battle for her life, Kennedy Cobble didn’t have to pick just one option.

She chose fight and flight.

Cobble, a homebound Lambert High School senior, had the fight against cancer within herself. But the flights to hospitals for the treatments and surgeries weren’t something that would come naturally.

Thanks to her neighbor and the nonprofit Angel Flight, Cobble was able to travel to hospitals by corporate plane at no cost these past four years.

Angel Flight, founded in 1983, coordinates a network of about 800 pilots who offer flights to patients in need of transportation for non-emergency medical treatments.

The nonprofit is based in Georgia and also serves residents of Alabama, Mississippi, North and South Carolina and Tennessee.

Volunteer pilots donate their services and planes to provide a more comfortable experience for patients, who are typically receiving potentially life-saving procedures, said Patti Atkins, executive assistant for Angel Flight.

“For people that are sick, their immune systems are very weak and you don’t want to fly on a commercial airline with all the germs going around,” Atkins said. “This is more convenient.”

Pilots are often retired and fly smaller, private aircraft, said Atkins, adding that Cobble’s experience on corporate jets has been a little out of the ordinary.

Cobble, who recently turned 19, was diagnosed five years ago with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer prevalent in teens.

In her case, however, the tumor was found in her sacrum, the rarest location.

Her mother, Kathy Cobble, took her to a surgeon in Atlanta who said removal of the tumor could leave Kennedy Cobble unable to walk. She knew she had to find the best for her daughter.

The family found the top surgeon for the specialized procedure, but he worked in New York City.

The logistics of such a long trip seemed difficult, yet the solution came at the neighborhood bus stop.

It was like an angel was watching over them. Or rather, an Angel Pilot.

Mike Bierster, a close neighbor of the Cobbles, mentioned that he might be able to fly the teen to her treatments in the corporate planes he pilots for a large Atlanta-based company.

He got approval from the firm, and Kennedy Cobble was on her way.

The flight was the first of many that she’s taken to hospitals in New York, Connecticut and Texas for treatments.

She has had several treatments and surgeries for cancer and its complications.

Now, she’s 15 months cancer-free and working toward her high school graduation on June 1.

She still faces some additional surgeries, but will have an Angel Pilot to take her there.

“If it wasn’t for them, I couldn’t take her to the best doctors there are in the country,” her mother said. “They have made that option available for me.

“I don’t think if I hadn’t done that, that she’d still be here today.”

The financial issues of the flights for treatments aside, the benefits of flying non-commercial are abundant for people with illnesses.

Bierster said he’s able to drive Kennedy Cobble right up to the plane, typically a Gulfstream 5 or a Hawker 800.

Sometimes, her family shares space with executives of the company, Bierster said, while other times they travel alone.

“We really as a company have taken Kennedy under our wings, so to speak,” he said.

Bierster isn’t the only company pilot who provides her transportation. If he’s unable to do it, other pilots are more than happy to help out.

“We really look forward to those trips versus the normal trips flying executives around because we know with Kennedy, we’re going to see her smile,” he said.

“If you see Kennedy’s name on the schedule as one of the passengers, people kind of perk up.”

The flights have been especially comfortable for the family and are, as Kathy Cobble put it, “like riding in a limousine.”

Kennedy Cobble can watch a movie or sleep on the way to or from treatment, a far cry from the crowds, security checks and baggage of commercial flying.

“It simplifies things when you’ve got so much other stuff going on,” Kathy Cobble said.

There’s still a lot going on for the Cobbles, but with Kennedy Cobble’s high school graduation looming, the prospects are much brighter.

She plans to attend college, though farther away than her mother may prefer.

Her hope is to become an interior designer, which she said is a practical career exploring her interest in art.

Angel Pilot Bierster will always be nearby, in case Kennedy Cobble needs some wings.

“She’s a great, bright, cheerful girl. She’s just been sick,” he said. “Even on the days when she’s felt her worst, she’s always managed to say thanks and smile.”