I had actually written a blog about this many years ago, but wanted to re-write this so I can re-live it as well.
from 1992 till 2003, I had worked as a ramp supervisor for Continental Airlines. One of my jobs was to help passengers on and off planes that couldn’t do it themselves. Over the years I have helped cancer patience, handicap, and elderly but, nothing would have tug on my heartstrings as did a 16 year old passenger named Jessica.
We had a plane that just landed from Houston and I was already made aware that there was a passenger that would need help leaving the airplane with the need of an Isle chair (wheel chair for airplanes) and to have a skycap standing by at the gate with an electric cart. As the plane rolled up, I waited for all the passengers to exit off so I could help my “special Assist” passenger. This was a quick turn-around flight, so I didn’t have much time to smell the roses. As the last passenger left the plane, the flight attendant waved me on board. I walked to the middle of the plane where I saw two women standing, retrieving items from the overheads, and a young girl still sitting down. With me I had brought the isle chair in which the passenger is strapped in and wheeled out. I remember her saying… “Are you going to help me today?” I said, “Yes ! I am your Superman!” The mother had pulled me aside to let me know that Jessica was paralyzed from the stomach down and would require special help getting her out. I had also noticed she had an IV attached to her. When I asked, her mom told me that she has cancer.
Right at that moment, I felt very emotional. How can this beautiful 16 year old girl be paralyzed and have cancer? A million thoughts went through my head as I prepared the isle chair for her. Right then, I told her I wanted to not use the chair and just carry her off the plane…. I didn’t think she needed the experience of being an object. So, I leaned way in and scooped her up. As soon as I got her placed where I could carry her over the seats and to the front door, I could feel myself beginning to tear up. She held on to me with little strength and her head laid on my chest as I walked down to exit the plane.
All the way up the jet-bridge I could feel the tears running down, at the same time, I could hear the waiting passengers in line at the gate. As we made are way through the gate door, almost in an instant, all went silent. Everyone watched as this little girl who couldn’t walk, be seated on the waiting electric cart. Thinking back on that moment, I hoped that even just for a second, all those passengers could remember that we are all human and that rushing to a destination wasn’t the most important thing they experienced that day.
I put Jessica on the cart, gave her a kiss on the cheek as she smiled at me. I turned around and and her mother could see the tears I had. She grabbed my wrist and said “Thank you so much for making her day. Jessica hates being put in those chairs. This means so much to her and me.” her mom asked my for my name, and I waved at them as the cart drove off. I went back through the gate, and lost it. Emotional overload just took over for a couple of minutes. Those 15 minutes changed a lot about the way I was living.
A few months had gone by and I had received a card at work from Jessica’s mom. She wanted to thank me again from doing more then what she expected and that Jess was hoping I would be there when she was scheduled to fly again. As I kept reading, I learned that would never happen. Jessica had passed away a couple of weeks after our encounter. I remember staring off into space and those emotions came rushing back. How could someone I only met one time make me breakdown? It called being human and being humane… to care, even if it’s just for a second, an acknowledgment, a nod, or even just a smile.
It’s been 20 years ago since this happened and I still think about it from time to time. Even now, typing this, it brings me back to that moment like it is frozen in time, a memory I will always hold on to. Thank you Jess for allowing me just 15 minutes in your life.