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Volunteer pilots give Holland man small break from grueling medical battle

Wings of Mercy is a Zeeland-based organization that helps provide free flights to people who need to travel for expensive medical procedures.

HOLLAND, Mich — Jim Visser is working on getting back to health after nearly two years of physical, emotional, and financial stress that he and his wife Ann wouldn't wish on anyone.

"Back in November of 2020, I had a surgery that went the wrong way and it ended up that I'm dealing with that. And at the time, only the Mayo Clinic was able to do this one surgery. It was pretty tricky," Jim said.

The Mayo Clinic is in Rochester, Minnesota. That's nearly an eight hour drive from Jim and Ann's home in Holland, and traditional air travel wouldn't save them a whole lot of time or money.

"If we flew commercial, we would've flown to O'Hare [International Airport in Chicago], and sat around for five hours and then finally fly up and then have an airport that's further away, and have to deal with that," Jim said.

The Vissers contacted the Zeeland-based Wings of Mercy. It's a faith-based organization that primarily helps patients with rare and serious illnesses who cannot afford to fly commercially for medical procedures they need to have done out of town.

Wings of Mercy reimburses volunteer pilots for the gas that it takes to get patients from place to place.

"It was such a relief to be able to say 'Hey, we need to get to Mayo Clinic on a certain date.' They took care of all that, and it left us without that problem," Ann said.

The Vissers have had different pilots each of the four trips they've taken for medical treatment. That includes fellow Holland resident John Borgman.

"I have the time, I have the talent, and I have an airplane. And the best part about it is we get to use it and let somebody who needs to get somewhere, get somewhere in a comfortable fashion," Borgman said.

"I always try to treat them like they're kings and queens."

On Saturday, August 20, Wings of Mercy will be taking part in Aviation Day at the West Michigan Regional Airport in Holland, which will be an opportunity for the organization to raise money for the services they provide.

"We're going to have a pancake breakfast and fly in. The pancake breakfast starts at 8 a.m. and goes until 11. We also have a 5K run. It's called the runway 5k. It'll be right here on the runway. You can register for that still online and run or do same day registration. That will be at 7 a.m.," said Grace Spelde who serves as the managing director for Wings of Mercy."

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