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Selfless Among Us: Wings Flights of Hope founder Joe DeMarco

A local pilot thought, why just fly for fun when you can fly for a purpose? Joe DeMarco created Wings Flights of Hope to fly patients to medical treatment for free.

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — It was in 2005 when Joe DeMarco was invited by a friend to fly with him on a passion flight to take a two-year-old cancer patient to the hospital. 

"As soon as his mom realized we were picking him up, she started crying, her sister's crying, and I was overwhelmed with their emotion," said DeMarco.

That moment changed his life forever. He quit his masonry job and he started the non-profit charity he called Wings Flights of Hope

"We don't accept any money from anybody we fly and we're real proud of that," he said.

DeMarco and his 10 volunteer pilots answer the call 24/7 to fly patients and their families to treatment all over the northeast. Whether they have a compromised immune system and can't fly commercially, or they're organ transplant patients who need to fly at a moment's notice, or their treatment requires multiple trips, as in the case of the Rufat family.

Pierce Rufat developed health issues in utero, and in his 3 short years of life, his parents, Izzy and Valerie Rufat, have flown with DeMarco to Pittsburgh a dozen times for Pierce's surgeries, a kidney transplant and chemotherapy.

"They made our lives a lot easier in a complicated situation," said dad, Izzy. "He did have many surgeries in the abdomen and sitting in a car seat for 3.5 hours on a ride was difficult. So the fact that we could hop on a flight and be there in an hour was a gamechanger from a comfort standpoint for Pierce." 

Valerie said the headaches of travelling are eliminated when flying with Wings Flights of hope, allowing her to focus on her son.

"It's not showing up to the airport two hours before and going through security and making sure you don't have the liquids that you can't take on a flight. This just makes it so much easier for the medical needs with the medicine, the special formulas and diet. It made it so much easier," she said.

DeMarco's generosity doesn't stop when the wheels touch down.  

"We would get to an airport in Pittsburgh, and Joe takes one of the courtesy vehicles to the hospital and waits for us there," said Izzy. "When we're in the appointment, we don't need to worry about getting to the airport to catch a flight. We can take as much time as we need with the doctor."

The Rufats say "selfless" is just one of the words they would use to describe DeMarco.

"He's so passionate, and honest and sincere and he's just an incredible human." 

Wings Flights of Hope is a non-profit that receives no government funding. They rely simply on donations to make this all possible. Joe alone has done almost 6,000 flights free of charge since he started Wings Flights of Hope.

Joe and his pilots provide peace of mind and hope for families. And what do they get in return? A purpose.

"For the volunteer pilots, to be able to take your plane and go out and make a difference in someone's life, it's so rewarding," said DeMarco.

To learn more about Wings Flights of Hope, click here.

To nominate someone to be featured in the Selfless Among Us series, email details to Melissa.Holmes@wgrz.com . 

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