October 4, 2006

In the clouds

Beaming as she carries a box of toys and snacks, 4-year-old Jacqueline Tampia climbs into Jim Loncella's private plane at Johnstown's airport. The Queens, N.Y., girl was on her way to receive specialized medical treatment in Springfield, Ill., with transportation provided by Loncella through Angel Flight America. The nonprofit group arranges free flights of hope and healing to specialized medical treatment facilities. And Angel Flight allows Loncella to use his love of flying to help others. "I found it very rewarding," Loncella said. "The other pilots and the patients are very interesting." A senior vice president for L. Robert Kimball and Associates of Ebensburg, Loncella got the flying bug with a $10 lesson in 1978 at the former Johnstown Aviation flight school. "It has been a lifelong pursuit," Loncella said. Although neither she nor her mother, Evelia, speaks much English, Jacqueline said she liked looking at the clouds. She used the stop at MTT Aviation's facility in Richland Township to work off some energy, bouncing around the lounge area. Jacqueline is fighting neuro-blastoma, a childhood cancer that caused her to develop opsoclonus-myoclonus, an autoimmune neurological disease. She is getting help from Dr. Michael Pranzatelli, a professor at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield and director of the National Pediatric Myoclonus Center. Pranzatelli is one of the leading experts in the rare syndrome and sees patients from around the world, said Elizabeth Tate, his assistant.

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