Dorothy “Pat” McConnaha Dreamed of Flying
Growing up, Dorothy “Pat” McConnaha dreamed of flying. At eight years old she even attempted her own haphazard first flight using nothing more than an umbrella. Today, eighty years on, she has finally lived one of her lifelong dreams: to learn to fly. What makes her story exceptional is the fact that McConnaha is in her seventh month as a hospice patient.
“I think a lot of people think of hospice as giving up, and it is absolutely not at all,” said Danielle Axe, a hospice volunteer who works with McConnaha, to local news outlet The Missoulian. “It’s making that time of your life the best that it can possibly be.”
Hospice Volunteer Danielle Axe Helped to Make it Happen
Axe began volunteering in hospice while studying for a physical therapy degree. She and McConnaha hit it off when they discovered they shared the common interests of Irish history and flying. Their mutual interest in the latter is what led to last Thursday’s flying lesson. With the help of Axe and of McConnaha’s hospice provider, Partners in Home Care of Missoula, the 88 year old hospice patient was given the chance to take her first flying lesson.
Too Young to Joint the Women’s Air Force
McConnaha regrets having never learned to fly. As a young woman, she was told flying was not something young women could do. Her big chance to learn to fly came during World War II, but as she explained in her interview with The Missoulian, she happened to be too young at the time to qualify for the women’s air force. By the time the war ended, she was too old. “That’s ok,” she said.
Hospice Patient’s First Flying Lesson
On Thursday, June 1, 2017 McConnaha boarded a Cessna 172XP with her flight instructor. Danielle Axe and McConnaha’s hospice nurse also boarded the plane in the back seat. Boarding the small plane proved a challenge. McConnaha suffers from congestive heart failure and must carry an oxygen tank wherever she goes. She has also had both of her shoulders and knees replaced, and has very limited mobility. None of these things shook her resolve. “Push, pinch, or pull me — whatever you have to do,” she said as they loaded her in the passenger seat of the place.
Once safely onboard and buckled in, the instructor taxied toward the runway. He had McConnaha press the lever to increase power and pitch to the propeller, and off they went. They flew for thirty minutes before returning to the airport. Most who fly in a small plane for the first time tend to marvel at the scenery and the views, but not McConnaha.
“I’ve seen the scenery before, but it was the flying itself, and pulling the different controls and watching it turn, and everything, the whole thing was just absolutely, from beginning to end, just a wonder,” McConnaha said upon her return.
Hospice is About Life
This story demonstrates that hospice is a place for life. It is a place that encourages those who face life-limiting illnesses to live as full and enriching a life as they can until the end. Part of this means fulfilling lifelong dreams, so long as the hospice patient is able. McConnaha certainly has proven this, and her experience is one that she will not forget, nor will her family who watched and supported her from the tarmac.