“Whom shall I send? Send me!” Alabama nurse takes part in “Angel Flight”

Published 6:28 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2023

An Alabama nurse had the incredible opportunity not long ago to help a terminally ill man get home to spend his last days with family and friends.

Katie Zeh-Wilcox, a registered nurse at Mizell Memorial Hospital in Opp, explained through a social media post that pieces fell together for the entire trip so well, overcoming multiple obstacles, that it had to have been a mission from God. She used Isaiah 6:8 to explain the trip: “‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”

“Patrick Castleberry, a 25-year-old, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer around Thanksgiving,” Zeh-Wilcox explained. “Since his diagnosis, Patrick’s health took a major decline, and family sought the best Cancer treatment at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. MD Anderson was unable to aggressively treat or cure Patrick’s cancer.”

Castleberry requested to go home to spend his final days. One flight fell through, but Pilot Joey Davis was available a couple days later.

“Earlier this week we received a phone call from a resident in Covington County,” South Alabama Regional Airport Executive Director Joe Blackwell wrote in a letter praising Zeh-Wilcox. “His son, age 25, was terminally ill at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. The son was flown to Texas by Pilots for Christ last month (December 2022). During the time he’s been in Texas, sadly his condition worsened. Due to this he was not eligible to fly back home to Covington County with Pilots for Christ. Driving was also not an option for medical reasons.”

It took some creative planning and divine intervention, but everything fell into place with the second flight. Blackwell contacted the mayors of Andalusia and Opp, along with the commission chairman of Covington County. They each told him to take any necessary steps to help Castleberry return home.

“Through wonderful people in our community, within two hours we had a plane and pilot who agreed to go pick him up. Fuel for the flight was donated by the airport,” Blackwell wrote. “As we prepared for the flight, we were advised that we would need a registered nurse to go on the flight to take care of the patient.”

“I received a call at work telling me it was go time,” Zeh-Wilcox explained. “When I arrived at the airport in Andalusia, I was greeted by the airport director and pilot. We got on the plane and headed to Houston on our ‘Angel Flight.’ I had the opportunity to sit up front in the cockpit. With this I learned about flight patterns, weather tracking and all things planes, from the seasoned pilot.

“We finally arrived in Houston! We anxiously awaited our patient. When he arrived, I set up the provided oxygen machine and we loaded the patient and his parents up. This was it, the day the family had been wishing for. Their son was finally going home!”

More challenges arose during the flight when a thunderstorm changed flight plans.

“Not long into the flight home, we encountered a large storm,” she said. “There was lightning on either side of the plane, rain pelting the windows, and extreme turbulence, despite going 60 miles out of the way to get out of the heaviest part of the storm. The plane felt like it was on a trampoline, just bouncing around (if you know me, you know that I get motion sick riding in the back seat of a car, so a turbulent plane was definitely not my favorite part.) Patrick’s oxygen saturation started dropping, and his oxygen machine batteries were almost dead. I relied on heavy prayer and the planes oxygen supply to ‘get us through the storm.’”

Finally, the plane landed to the fanfare of Castleberry’s group of family and friends.

“I saw his face light up, and he was able to assist with getting himself on an ambulance stretcher,” she wrote.

The happiness of being home, surrounded by the people he loved, was one of the last happy memories for Castleberry.

“Patrick’s dad kept me updated on his health status,” she posted. “Sunday, January 22, 2023, Patrick went to be with the Lord. His family called me and just thanked me over and over again, stating ‘We would have never been able to do this if it wasn’t for you. You will forever be a part of our story … You never know where the Lord calls you or whose journey you’ll be a part of.”