From a dream to reality: Helicopter flight offers thrilling ride for Pueblo man

UCHealth joins with Project Sol Flower and Sangre de Cristo Community Care to fulfill young man’s wish of a helicopter ride.
March 18, 2024
UCHealth's Lifeline helicopter crew joins with a Pueblo family before Cesare, a young man with muscular dystrophy, boards the aircraft for a 45-minute flight. Photo by Todd Seip, UCHealth.
UCHealth’s Lifeline helicopter crew joins with a Pueblo family before Cesar, a young man with muscular dystrophy, boards the aircraft for a 45-minute flight. Photos by Todd Seip, UCHealth.

Cesar’s excitement could not be contained as he piloted his wheelchair onto the helicopter landing pad and circled the giant red aircraft that would take him skyward.

His cursory inspection earned smiles and tears from his family as they watched from the edge of the pad.

“I’ve flown before,” Cesar said. “I used to fly to Utah in airplanes but never a helicopter.”

At 25 years of age, Cesar has shown remarkable courage in his battle against muscular dystrophy. Taking a flight on a helicopter was one of his ‘top 5’ wishes.

“I have muscular dystrophy, and it affects my muscles,” said Cesar. “My muscles become smaller and weaker over time.

“I’m happy that I can do things that I want. I have a lot of wishes, and this is one of them. I’m excited I can do it,” he said.

Cesar met a flight crew from UCHealth LifeLine. The crew went through a short pre-flight briefing explaining all the sights and sounds Cesar would experience on the special trip he had been dreaming about for months.

“I see and hear military helicopters fly over my house all the time, and I wondered what it would be like to fly in one,” he said.

Cesar is joined by his cousin, Erick Avila, for a flight on UCHealth's LifeLine helicopter. During a 45-minute flight, the crew took the two west to Canon City for a view of the Royal Gorge Bridge.
Cesar is joined by his cousin, Erick Avila, for a 45-minute flight on UCHealth’s LifeLine helicopter. During the flight, the crew took the two west to Canon City for a view of the Royal Gorge Bridge.

The flight was a cooperative effort of UCHealth LifeLine, Project Sol Flower, UCHealth Parkview Medical Center, and Sangre de Cristo Community Care, a home health and hospice care organization that cares for Cesar.

Planning for the trip started when Cesar’s inpatient palliative care physician, Dr. Kristen Eisenman at Children’s Hospital Colorado first learned of Cesar’s dream of a helicopter flight. She called a team at Project Sol Flower and a team member there called Sangre de Cristo Community Care. Cesar’s care team realized that he also needed a flight nurse, so UCHealth LifeLine stepped in to provide a helicopter with medical personnel.

“When I was in the hospital back in November, I asked the medical team if I could ride in a helicopter, and here I am today,” Cesar said. “I’m looking forward to looking down over the reservoir, my house and the Royal Gorge.”

Project Sol Flower, a non-profit foundation based in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, grants bucket list dreams and experiences to young adults 18- to 26-years-old who are battling a life-limiting or life-altering illness.

“Our co-founder, Kaydee Koch, lost her battle with cancer at the age of 20 but embraced living her ‘bucket list’ and used the experiences to stay positive and future focused,” said Christy Grosboll, executive director and co-founder of Project Sol Flower. “This is at an age where they are just getting ready to begin their young adult lives, go to college, start a career path, maybe fall in love. Often, their diagnosis or disease brings those dreams to a sudden halt.

“Kaydee understood the power of making bucket lists and checking off her goals and dreams. It is our pleasure and greatest desire to honor her legacy by providing bucket list dreams to other deserving young adults. These memories are priceless for our dreamers and their families.”

Cesar’s sister, Mitzi Malagon, beamed with pride as her brother piloted the wheelchair to the helicopter’s landing pad.

“We are just so grateful that there are good people out there who help,” Malagon said. “They wanted to make sure that Cesar was able to accomplish everything he wanted to do on his bucket list, and he mentioned that he wanted the experience of flying in a helicopter. We had no idea it would happen this fast.”

Cesar was accompanied on the journey by his cousin, Erick Avila.

“We do everything together,” said Cesar.

Cesar inspects UCHealth's LifeLine helicopter.
Cesar inspects UCHealth’s LifeLine helicopter.

The 45-minute excursion took the pair over their house on the east side of Pueblo, then west to the Pueblo Reservoir and out over the Royal Gorge Bridge.

“It was really a good flight,” said Erick, who also experienced his first helicopter flight. “He loved it, and I loved it too. It was fun to see how excited Cesar was. He enjoyed the view and was able to point out all the different areas.”

Cesar’s flight crew included pilot Troy Argabright, flight paramedic Courtney Avery, and flight nurse Andrew Bammesberger. UCHealth’s LifeLine Airbus H125 helicopter, stationed at UCHealth Parkview Pueblo West Hospital, is part of a fleet of five helicopters, one fixed-wing aircraft and three ground ambulances providing critical care transport services across the region.

“Usually, we are responding to critical care or traumatic accidents,” said Avery. “But this is a great day for us. It’s a happy flight and special for us to get to be a part of. I’ve been looking forward to this flight. You get to interact and see someone really enjoy the moment.”

The H125 is a specially modified helicopter and is configured with state-of-the-art medical equipment including cardiac monitor/defibrillators, ventilators, medication pumps, handheld ultrasound and CPR devices.

“Our Lifeline helicopters are three times faster than a normal ambulance,” added Avery. “When we get called, speed and time are of the essence to saving lives.”

Cesar’s flight was exhilarating, part of a whirlwind day for him and his family, full of sights, sounds, and memories that they will never forget.

“I’m really thankful for everyone involved that made this happen,” said Cesar.

Dreams do come true.

About the author

Born and raised in Pueblo, Colorado, Seip graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Southern Colorado and later obtained a master’s degree in education from Walden University in Maryland. After graduation, he started his career in the media industry, working as a news reporter, director and program manager at KCSJ Radio/Pueblo Broadcasters Inc. He then moved into the arts sector, working at the Sangre De Cristo Arts and Conference Center in Pueblo.

His passion for education led him to pursue a career in teaching, spending 20 years in Pueblo School District 70 teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), music and computer science. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he served as the public information officer and assistant director for the Pueblo School District 70 Department of Student Services. Currently, he serves as a communications specialist for UCHealth Parkview Medical Center.

Seip is married to Kerry, a music and STEM teacher in Pueblo School District 70, and is the proud father of two adopted children, both currently attending universities in Colorado.