MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Southwest Airlines provides free flights for St. Jude families, and for two years, pilot Cary Howard brought those families to Memphis.
Then in 2015, Howard became a part of a St. Jude family when his son Chandler was diagnosed with brain cancer.
The last three years for Chandler, now 18, have been rough.
“If there is a place you want to be miserable it’s St. Jude,” Chandler said.
He and his family moved from Virginia to Memphis for his treatment. His dad was able to make the transition with a lot of help from his job.
“They were really good to me, and taking time off, and letting me do what I needed to do for my family and the things we needed to do for Chandler,” Cary said.
Cary has been a pilot with Southwest Airlines for 19 years. Since 2013, Southwest has partnered with St. Jude to provide flights to Memphis for St. Jude families.
More than 2,100 flights have been provided, with 650 this year alone.
“I’m jaded, but I’m so glad to work for Southwest, and I’m glad they’ve opened up this opportunity to have this relationship,” said Southwest Airlines Captain Nancy Martin-Belitz.
This year, the Howard family shared their story with the company they consider family.
“It’s like bringing two families together,” Cary said. “We have the Southwest family and the St. Jude family.”
Pilots from across the country, including Martin-Belitz, are in Memphis to visit St. Jude. They spent the day learning about Chandler’s diagnosis and his treatment.
They also brought in current patients for some time away from the hospital bed.
Chandler knows how much these patient events mean to them.
“They’re giving away gifts, they’re giving away gift cards, and you’re like yeah I feel better,” Chandler said.
“The truth of the matter is these kids are changing the spirit in us,” Martin-Belitz said.
As for Chandler, he’s completed treatment and is a freshman at Ole Miss.
He’s also completed a half-marathon. Less than a year after treatment, Chandler and his mom Cindy finished the St. Jude Memphis Half.
“Seeing him doing it, it was a big deal,” Cindy said.
The Howard family will be back at it this year – Cary will run the 5k, Chandler the 10k, and Cindy will run the whole marathon, all while a family of 60,000 employees cheers them on.