WELCOME BACK: Kimberly Peacock returns home thanks to special flight service

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Kimberly Peacock hugs her great aunt Jan VonLindern as her parents, Heather and Jim look on last week at the Glacier Jet Center.

It was a special homecoming for Kimberly Peacock last week.

After about a month of being treated for leukemia at Children’s Hospital of Colorado in Denver, Peacock was able to get a free direct charter flight from Denver to Kalispell thanks to AeroAngel, a nonprofit organization that helps provide free air transportation for medical care using high-performance aircraft and a crew of volunteer professional pilots.

The non-profit provides flights to those who, because of their health, cannot fly by commercial airline or use ground transportation to travel for medical care, explained President Mike Pestal, who was on the flight with Peacock.

Pestal noted the flight would have normally cost about $12,000, but the pilots donate their time and aircraft to the cause.

“We have a passion for flying and to help folks out that are struggling,” he said.

Without the service, Peacock would have had to either take a commercial flight, and risk catching an infection, or make the long drive home. Because her immune system is in such a weakened state from chemotherapy, even the smallest hint of a cut or infection means an immediate trip to the hospital, her father Jim Peacock said.

Friend and fellow runner Doug Martin of Corvallis helped the family secure the flight through AeroAngel.

“Doug has been so supportive with his time and energy,” Jim said.

There has been a huge swell of community support since Kimberly was diagnosed in late July. She hadn’t been feeling well and went to the doctor on a Friday. By Sunday, she was headed to Denver for cancer treatment. Jim said they initially expected she had mononucleosis, but the tests came back positive for leukemia. A fun run, bracelets, and spaghetti feed earlier this month raised about $25,000 for the Peacocks.

Gifts and cards of support for Kimberly also came rolling in from fellow runners and friends as she was treated.

“We were never alone in Denver,” Jim said. “I’ve cried more over people reaching out than Kimberly’s situation.”

It’s been a tough road. The cancer drugs also gave Kimberly diabetic side effects and she had to go on insulin. The family has also had to spend time apart. Her mother, Heather, stayed with her while Jim came back to the valley, where he’s the Columbia Falls cross-country coach and a biology teacher at the high school.

The standout athlete at Columbia Falls already has set herself some goals.

She hopes to at least walk a cross-country race this fall and days after she came home, she already was asking to attend meets. Last year she took second in the state A cross country meet and the desire to run is still strong, cancer or not.

There’s a long treatment ahead.

Now in remission, Kimberly will continue chemotherapy treatment for the next three years at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, Jim said.

They’re taking it in stride, one day at a time, he noted.

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