By Nok-Noi Hauger
Thursday, December 21, 2006 –
Bangor Daily News
The holiday gift bag filled with wrapped presents from Santa was stamped with a North Pole postmark. It was delivered by airmail Wednesday to 9-year-old Zachary Nickerson, who suffers from a deficient immune system and severe lung disease.
The Corinth boy and his family were waiting at the airport in Bangor for an Angel Flight airplane that typically carries the child to a hospital. The ruse to get the boy to the Avitat general aviation terminal on Wednesday was that he would meet a new pilot. Instead it was a Santa Flight, and the boy wound up with a Christmas bag filled with presents.
“Where have you been, shopping in the air?” the boy asked Angel Flight pilot Joe Luma, who carried the bag into the terminal. “Wow!” said Zachary when he heard the presents were for him. Nickerson was one of three children in Maine who received early Christmas presents on Wednesday as part of the first Santa Flights, sponsored by toy maker Hasbro Inc. and delivered by Angel Flights Northeast, a nonprofit organization that provides free air transportation to ill children and adults so they can have access to life-saving medical care. Noah Jondro, 4, of Fort Fairfield and Randi Leigh Baxter, 13, of Appleton also greeted Santa Flights on Wednesday and received gifts. Other flights went to ill children in spots in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“We had half a dozen Angel Flights all depart today from the Andover [Mass.] airport,” said Luma, who is from Beverly, Mass., and owns his own architecture firm. “This is the first annual Santa Flight and I hope it takes off.” Private aircraft piloted by volunteers, including Luma, transport the ill children at their own expense for Angel Flights. While the toys were provided by Hasbro, the Santa Flights transportation costs were financed by the pilots, he said.
Zachary, who was diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency when he was 4 months old, said he’s taken “about 100” Angel Flights, but his mother and full-time caregiver, Michelle Nickerson, said the number is probably closer to 70. “They’ve been unbelievable,” Lloyd Nickerson, Zachary’s dad, said of the Angel Flights program while standing in the back of the room watching his child. “He was born with no immune system and he has a lung disease now, pulmonary fibrosis, which is fatal. “I don’t know how we would have done it without them,” he said. Even with the diagnosis and his weekly local doctor appointments and monthly appointments in New York, Zachary is a fighter. “He’s dealing with it,” Lloyd Nickerson said. “It’s never ending.” When friends or family visit, for example, the first thing out of Zachary’s mouth is: “Do you have anything?” his father said. “He knows how to protect himself.”
While at the airport, Zachary opened two of the presents from Santa — “Everyone knows him, but hasn’t met him,” Zachary said. After the presents were open and photos were taken, Michelle Nickerson hugged Luma, who typically does one Angel Flight per week, and thanked him for volunteering his time and money. “It’s a great service you guys provide,” she said. And while Zachary and his parents walked to their vehicle to travel back to Corinth, the child aknowledged his new predicament: “I cannot wait five days with this many presents.”