Nurse practitioner fulfills cancer patient’s wish to fly

Joe Booth had just been referred to hospice care. The 69-year-old had always wanted to fly in a plane.

Just before Valentine’s Day, Tracey Hoffman, APRN, was so troubled she couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t thoughts of chocolate hearts or red roses that had this nurse practitioner with Norton Cancer Institute tossing and turning. It was her patient, Joe Booth.

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Joe, age 69, recently had been referred for hospice care after a two-year battle with prostate cancer. He had been in the office that day to see Arash Rezazadeh, M.D., medical oncologist at Norton Cancer Institute. The two talked of wishes and dreams, and Joe confided he had always wanted to fly in a plane.

Joe said as far back as he could recall he had loved planes. He had built many detailed World II models but had never set foot in a real plane.

An outpouring on social media

Tracey just couldn’t get Joe’s wish off her mind.

She put a brief message on Facebook: “I have a patient who has a wish to fly in a plane. I don’t have a whole lot of time to make it happen. Anyone have any ideas?”

 In no time her phone was blowing up.

“People were sharing it like crazy,” she said. “Pilots from all over were sending pictures of their planes and begging, ‘Pick me!’”

She soon connected with Bryan Ogle, who flies a single engine fixed wing Piper. They worked out details for “Joe’s wish flight” to take place Feb. 25 at 2 p.m.

Jitters give way to the view

That Sunday, Bryan welcomed Joe, his son, Brian, and other guests to Louisville’s Bowman Field. He went over plans for the flight ahead. The pilot and his four passengers agreed they would check out Southern Indiana and look for the family’s home and auto repair shop.

They agreed Joe would sit up front beside Bryan. Joe walks with a cane because of pain and limited strength, so it took some teamwork to get him in the cockpit.

He was a bit nervous at first but loved the bird’s-eye view of the countryside thousands of feet below. He even got to take over the controls during the 30-minute trip.

Back safely from the adventure, Joe smiled and said, “This was a good day.” 

A farewell prayer

As the afternoon wound to a close, Bryan asked if the group would join him in prayer before leaving. Family, friends and caregivers gathered around Joe. Those nearest him reached out to place their hands on his shoulders and back as Bryan asked for God’s grace, peace and healing love.

Tracey said an experience like this restores your faith in humanity. After working for some years in trauma care, she’s glad she listened to a friend who suggested she would find cancer care more rewarding.

She takes Norton Cancer Institute’s focus on compassion to heart.

“It’s not just about treating cancer. It’s about treating the whole person,” she said.


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