By Casey Nolen
Sauget, IL (KSDK) -- For nearly 30 years, a local helicopter company has flown hundreds--if not thousands--of life-saving missions right here in St. Louis.
Clarke Thomas began his career with Fostaire Helicopters as a pilot and worked his way up to owner.
And as his career took-off, the business expanded, growing from chartered flights and industrial work to include transporting organs for transplant.
"I've brought hearts in for four-week-old babies to older adults," Thomas said.
As long as transplants have taken place in St. Louis, Fostaire Helicopters has flown the surgeons and donated organs from airports directly to the roofs hospitals for nearly 30 years. And after nearly three decades of life-saving flights, it was on a recent flight that the mission became more personal than the Thomas' could have ever imagined.
"All these years we've been bringing organs in we knew how important it was," said Thomas, "but never dreamed we would have to bring an organ in for a family member of the company."
"I feel like I got a second chance at life," said Thomas' wife, Arlene.
One year ago, Arlene Thomas felt something wrong in her chest. Doctors diagnosed her with cardiac sarcoidosi, a rare heart disease that would require a transplant flown in by the helicopter company she runs with her husband.
"This time, myself and my daughters were standing in the hospital window watching our own helicopter land and watching the surgeon get out with a cooler in his hand," Thomas said. "When I told my daughters that that cooler had their mother's new heart in it, it's quite a moment."
"I was one of the lucky ones," said Arlene Thomas. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about the donor and his family."
"I know a lot of people are afraid to," said Arlene of organ donation, "but people like me are up at Barnes waiting for a heart. And I just think it's a great thing if you can consider it."