When seriously ill children living in rural and remote communities need a doctor, it’s not as simple as driving around the corner or into town.
With circumstances ranging from life threatening conditions such as cancer, through to genetic conditions and lesser or unknown illnesses, most families in these areas simply don’t have access to the necessary treatments at local hospitals and healthcare providers.
Living what can often be a six or eight hour one-way car trip away from a major hospital or specialist facility able, the strain on these families to make even one, let alone multiple trips over several months for their child’s treatment over is immense.
This is why Wings4Kidz is so important, turning the otherwise near impossible task of getting these kids where they need to go into a quick and easy experience when families are hurting the most.
Natalie Tierney is one of two pilots with Wings4Kidz, a not-for-profit charity providing the support and care these children and families need, particularly in NSW.
Reducing the trauma and cost, as well the physical and emotional fatigue associated with long distance travel, Wings4Kidz offer a free flight service that's fast, safe and enjoyable to support their essential medical care.
For the families, the assistance Wings4Kidz provides in a short one-hour flight from rural NSW to a major facility like the Westmead Children's Hospital is indescribable.
"We help families with children who have illnesses that need ongoing treatment," the 28-year-old commercially trained pilot told Mamamia.
"It’s not an ‘ambulance style’ treatment that would get an air ambulance or the Flying Doctor Service because it’s not an emergency state, but as ‘out-patients’ they need ongoing support and to keep coming back for check-ups and scans, but they don’t have any support and so are often left to drive.
"It’s often pretty far for them for them to drive with young children, or more than one child, it's exhausting for adults, let alone young kids."
The Lillyman family are just one the many families Natalie, who on her busiest day could fly up to three or four return trips, transports for ongoing medical treatment.
For this family who lead a "simple farm life" on a farm in Narromine, NSW, their daughters' cancer diagnoses were devastating.
Already plagued with car trouble and "wondering where the next pay cheque would come from", having to travel back and forth to Sydney nine hours each way by train was stressful, which is why Wings4Kidz is so vital to their daughters' recovery.
"We are farmers with no immediate family close by that can help us. When both our daughters have appointments on the same day at the hospital, that we all need to travel as a family," they explained.
"Wings4Kidz have never asked anything of us beyond; 'When do you need us?' or 'What more can we do for you?'
"For us, it means security and peace of mind. A means to travel without stressing over money or a car that could fall apart around our ears at any moment. Wings4Kidz means light in an otherwise dark journey. There just aren't enough words to say thank you."
Ensuring the kids and their families travel door-to-door to and from their appointments as safely and comfortably as possible is only one part of the equation. As Natalie explained, providing a sense of fun and adventure for these children who have already experienced hardship at such young ages is both crucial and rewarding.
"When you're flying just anyone around, you don't feel rewarded. But when you fly these families, the little kids give you hugs and they're so grateful, and they never show what they're going through," she said.
"Being a female pilot, a lot of little girls love it and ask 'are you flying the plane?'. I love it because it shows them that they can grow up and be a pilot too."