SANFORD, Fla. – Oftentimes when we talk about organ donation, we hear the stories about the doctors and donors but an important part of the transplant process is the transportation of the organ.
Mark Neubauer, captain and co-founder of Air Unlimited, is part of a team of pilots that makes the gift of life happen.
"You feel like you're giving something back," Neubauer said.
Organs can only survive for a limited time outside the body, which is why the pilots at Air Unlimited are on call 24/7 and have to be ready to fly as soon as the hospital calls.
"It's very well-rehearsed from the point in time that they get on board the airplane to when the engine starts to how we get out. We pick up those crews and we wait on the ground for all of the harvesting to occur and then for the surgical teams to respond back to the airplane," Neubauer said.
Five years ago, he and his business partner started their charter company, Air Unlimited, to fly people to the islands in the Bahamas from Sanford Airport.
A few years later, they realized there was also a need to transport surgical teams from hospitals not just in Florida, but New Orleans and Atlanta, too.
Donate Life Florida estimates more than 5,000 children and adults are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the state.
"It isn't just about moving people from one place to another, that there are backstories, and with the organs involved in this, in finding that you're playing some small part about giving someone an extension of the gift of life, that makes you feel pretty good inside," Neubauer said.
The company mainly uses a jet-type of aircraft that goes up to 54,000 feet at a speed of 400 knots, which is roughly 460 mph.
"We can get over a lot of the weather and we can also get there in the shortest period of time possible. The speed is important, you know, especially when you're dealing with time-sensitive organs," Neubauer said.
Neubauer, who has been a pilot for about 35 years, still remembers his first delivery, when it was just him and an organ in the plane.
"It happened to be a liver and I remember the stark look of the package and it wasn't really significant to me until I actually handed it over to the technician and signed for it and realized that that's gonna change somebody's life and that had an emotional impact on me, realizing it wasn't just a mission," Neubauer said.