PILOT KATHY BROUSARD WOULD OFTEN FLY PEOPLE to Houston for medical appointments as part of her work with the volunteer pilots’ group Angel Flight South Central. In 2000, she received a call before a patient’s scheduled flight. The woman said she needed to cancel because she couldn’t afford the taxi fare once she landed in Houston. After flying the patient to Houston, Broussard insisted on driving her from the airport to the hospital herself, free of charge.

Seeing an unmet need for assistance with the often-overlooked expenses that accompany traveling for medical treatment, Broussard put an ad in a local newspaper asking for volunteers to drive patients from the airport to their destination. Nearly a quarter-century later, Houston Ground Angels has provided more than 30,000 free rides for patients, the majority of whom are undergoing cancer treatment.

People traveling to Houston for treatment can request a ride from one of the region’s airports via the nonprofit’s website. Volunteers pick up patients when they arrive at the airport and transport them to a local hotel or hospital, such as the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. In 2020, the organization also started providing rides for patients living in the 13-county greater Houston area so they could get to and from critical appointments.

Driver’s Etiquette

Make sure to steer clear of potentially uncomfortable conversation topics.

According to Houston Ground Angels executive director Rebecca Maitland, transportation from an airport to a hospital in a cab or via a rideshare service like Uber can cost upward of $75—a fee that some people with a cancer diagnosis cannot afford. “I’m surprised at the number of patients that we drive that have told us that without our help, they wouldn’t be getting treatment at all,” Houston Ground Angels board president David Smith says.

Houston Ground Angels volunteer Dick Stabell, left, attends a February 2024 bell-ringing celebration marking the conclusion of treatment for a patient he drove to medical appointments. Photo courtesy of Houston Ground Angels

Living Examples

Most of Houston Ground Angels’ volunteers are cancer survivors. That experience allows them to connect with passengers and show them what life after treatment can look like. “We have a deep understanding for what these folks are going through,” says the nonprofit’s board president David Smith, who is also a volunteer driver and a cancer survivor.

People who are flying in to receive treatment also have the reassurance they will find a friendly face at the airport, making the experience less scary. Drivers, many of whom are former cancer patients themselves, typically form close bonds with patients who return for multiple appointments. In fact, volunteer drivers often attend celebrations marking the end of treatment, Smith adds. “Providing a ride is such a simple thing … but for these patients, it’s the difference between life and death, between getting well and not,” Maitland says.

Thomas Celona is the associate editor for Cancer Today.