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Skyrocketing Generosity
Southwest Airlines helps low-income patients cover travel expenses to Hopkins.
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South Carolinian Savannah Talledo will redeem her voucher on her next visit to Hopkins.

Soaring fuel prices are making Americans think twice about air travel. But for people like Savannah Talledo, there is no choice. Since 2004, the 9-year-old from Liberty, S.C., has been treated at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for complications of neurogenic bladder and bowel dysmotility, a condition that causes incontinence and blockages. Over the past four-plus years, the Talledos have spent nearly $8,000 on air fare for Savannah’s care.

Recently, Paula Heneberry overheard Catherine Talledo, Savannah’s mother, mention that the two plane tickets from South Carolina had cost them more than $1,300 each way. That’s when Heneberry, director of pediatric social work at Hopkins Children’s, told Talledo about a new Southwest Airlines project called Share the Spirit Medical Transportation Grant Program. The project provides 150 one-time, round-trip vouchers each to Hopkins and eight other major medical institutions for patients and their families whose travel expenses would cause major financial hardship.

“It was awesome news,” says Talledo, mother of three other children she left in her husband’s care. “We used to drive five hours to Charlotte [N.C.], where we could get cheaper air fares, but now gas is so expensive that it doesn’t pay anymore.”

Before out-of-state patients throughout Johns Hopkins Hospital sign up for the Southwest program, they meet with a social worker to determine whether it’s financially feasible to return on a regular basis. Many patients, says Heneberry, have exhausted family income for direct medical care. Additional costs, like transportation, can be prohibitive. Several Hopkins patient funds are already in place to provide assistance, including the Arthur and Yvonne Koenig Fund, which has helped 170 patients. Still, for patients like Savannah, who has needed several complicated surgeries, expenses are mounting. “Southwest’s generosity couldn’t have come at a better time,” Heneberry says.

Each participating hospital has its own guidelines for administering the Southwest tickets in cooperation with social work, patient relations and existing resources. Since its inception in May, the Southwest program has come to the aid of five Hopkins patients and their families, says Carol Stansbury, the Hospital’s social work council chair.

Reflecting on her countless trips to Hopkins, Savannah says, “I’m sort of happy to see my friends there, but I miss my family.” The girl enjoys talking to her doctors, Paul Colombani, John Gearhart and Anil Dubari, about becoming a pediatric surgeon one day. “I could help children with their problems because I’ve been through so much,” she says. By then, Savannah’s doctors hope she’ll fly to destinations just for fun—and on her terms.


— Judy Minkove

 

Additional information: Visit www.southwest.com. Click on “about swa.” Also visit hopkinshospital.org/patients/housing.html or contact Carol Stansbury, at 410-614-5237.

 

 

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