The sky’s the limit for Rep. Ralph Abraham.
The Louisiana Republican is a pilot, a physician, a veterinarian, and a farmer. He also helps out with the Coast Guard and wants to climb Mount Everest next year.
Abraham, 62, got his pilot’s license after he graduated from vet school in the 1980s. He uses his plane to give back to his constituents in a unique way.
He’s been a member of Pilots for Patients for years. In his large 5th District, which covers much of northeastern and central Louisiana, cancer patients often have to travel long distances to receive treatment, and the nonprofit organization works to get them there quickly at no cost.
As Abraham puts it, patients are “fatigued either going to a chemo or a post-chemo, radiation, whatever … especially coming home after the treatments, energy levels are terribly low and we, hopefully, can just facilitate the healing process in that manner.”
The two-term congressman helps transport patients to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
“For the parents, I think it’s actually a godsend where they don’t have to worry about the transportation,” Abraham said. “It’s just something very small [that] we do. I think we actually get as much or more benefit or blessing out of it as the patients.”
With his congressional schedule, Abraham doesn’t get to fly patients as often as he would like, but his plane is available in Louisiana for the organization.
He also tries to get airborne a couple of days a month to fly missions for Green Flag, a Civil Air Patrol program that uses manned planes to simulate unmanned drones and shoot real-time video for crew training in Fort Polk, Louisiana.
“It just gives real-time, just phenomenal training to the men and women on the ground that are learning their skills and learning how to fight,” said Abraham, who served in the Mississippi National Guard from 1986 to 1989. “We’ve had soldiers come back from the wars overseas and tell us that our training was so realistic that once they got over there, the transition was minimal, if any. They could hit the ground running and help save lives of other soldiers.”
And, it doesn’t stop there.
Just this month, he got another opportunity to volunteer: this time helping out the Coast Guard.
“I got a call at daylight from the Coast Guard in Memphis, and they said that an aircraft had gone down in or around the Mississippi River and wanted me to go up because I am stationed close to that particular area,” he recalled.
Abraham and his co-pilot assisted sheriff’s deputies with the search.
The pilot was found and “I heard was he was doing good,” the congressman reported.
“The good thing is when we fly for a Green Flag … we are considered airmen, we are considered part of the total force of the Air Force,” he said. “When I fly for the Coast Guard Auxiliary, we are considered Coast Guard when we are on active missions.”
He said he appreciates them letting him be “part of the family.”
As for climbing Everest, Abraham has already been in touch with people with whom he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in January 2012, and they’re getting things lined up for next year.
“We are past, I think, the talking stage,” he said.