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Through donations and volunteers, "Wings of Mercy" provides free transport for patients in need of specialized medical care. The crew above stopped in Morris Feb. 27 before flying to Montana to bring Brandon Thorson to St. Paul for rehabilitation. From left are Registered Nurse Kathy Schmidt, pilot Steve Nelson and co-pilot Greg Thoraldson. Photos courtesy Joan Fults.

An Airplane with Angel's Wings

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By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

he Jim and Jean Thorson family had already been through the worst. Two sons had been injured in a car crash in Montana and 19-year-old Brandon lay in a coma in a Billings hospital five weeks after the accident.

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Then the family learned that, even when Brandon was healthy enough to withstand the trip, it would cost between $20,000 and $25,000 to bring their boy home to Minnesota.

That's when the Thorsons also discovered that the grace of angel's wings can come attached to an airplane.

Thanks to "Wings of Mercy," Brandon Thorson was flown last weekend from Billings to St. Paul's Bethesda Hospital free of charge.

"We can't say enough about what the organization has done for us," said Brandon's father, Jim Thorson.

On Jan. 16, Brandon, his brother, Eric, 25, and a friend were driving about 100 miles east of Billings when they were involved in a crash with a semi. Eric suffered a brain injury and broken bones and Brandon sustained a traumatic brain injury, a severely broken jaw, broken discs and a fractured skull.

"It was very traumatic to get that phone call," Jim said. "Originally, we didn't expect him to make it. To walk in and see him, it was quite a shock. But the people at (the hospital) were absolutely fantastic."

Brandon's mother Jean stayed with her son in Billings, living in a Ronald McDonald House. Jim, Eric, C.J., 17, and Kellen, 16, remained at home. In February, at a benefit in Morris for Brandon, the mother of a family friend told them about "Wings of Mercy."

"Wings" was started in 1991 in Michigan to provide free air transportation for patients in the region in need of specialized medical care. The organization operates solely on charitable donations and aircraft owners, operators and nurses volunteer their services. Many pilots even refuse to be reimbursed for fuel expenses.

In 1995, the organization expanded to Minnesota. When the Thorsons learned about "Wings," Jean's sister, Joan Fults, sent an email to the organization asking if it could take Brandon's case.

"For them to volunteer their services like that, it's unbelievable," Jim said.

In addition to monitoring Brandon's progress, the Thorsons are working to get the word out about "Wings of Mercy." It's working already. Jim's mother lives in Dawson and was telling friends about the organization.

"Once they heard about it, they wanted to leave Wings an endowment in their will," Jim said. "They said, 'We don't want to talk about these things because we don't want to think about these things. But what if someone in my family needs them?' "

To contact Wings of Mercy, call (800) 98 MERCY, write Wings of Mercy, PO Box 1921, Maple Grove, MN 55311, or visit the Wings Web site at WingsOfMercyMN.org.

"It's quite an organization," Jim said.

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