Mollie Burke knows a thing or two about flying. A Red Bank High School senior in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mollie has a rare complicated illness that requires special medical care not available in her hometown. Unable to travel by car due to the severity of her illness, Mollie has relied on Miracle Flights, the nation’s leading medical flight charity, to get her to the necessary life changing medical care, which in her case was based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Since 2018, Mollie has been transported by Miracle Flights pilots 18 times. Finally, this past summer she was one of the first patients at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to receive an implantable electronic gastric stimulation device, which has drastically helped to control her illness.
Although her health saga has been cumbersome, Mollie has never used the words “I have to fly to Cincinnati,” rather she prefers to be optimistic and say “I get to fly.” Her journey has led to a passion for aviation and the possibilities that it brings. So much so that she has chosen to pursue a career in aviation and most recently she was accepted to the nation’s most comprehensive aeronautical university, Empry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida.
During a recent interview, Mollie shared a bit more about her passion for flying and future goals:
Had you ever dreamed of being a pilot before you got sick?
That’s tricky, because I have always been sick. When I was younger, I wanted to be a nurse anesthetist, because I had undergone multiple surgeries and I remember my nurse anesthetist being the last person to talk to me and ease my anxiety. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to fly so often, I always keep my head toward the sky in hopes of catching a glimpse of a plane or its contrail. I am so mesmerized and in awe of the beauty of flying.
What is the most exciting part about being in the air?
There are two things that I find most exciting. The first thing, I absolutely love that when I’m in the air, I am able to see God’s abundant beauty of sunrises, sunsets and the land below from the most amazing seat available! Secondly, I really like the turbulence! That might sound kind of silly, but it reminds me of being on a roller coaster. I’ve missed a lot of opportunities to live my teenage life in a normal, simple and carefree way. I had to sit out on trips to the amusement park with my sister and friends, so I imagine the turbulence is the most thrilling roller coaster I’ve ever ridden.
What do you look forward to most when you receive your pilot license?
Once I have my private pilot license, I will be able to continue my education in Aeronautical Science. I recently toured Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida and the experience confirmed my career choice, and I’m more excited than ever. Becoming a private pilot is the first step in achieving my dream of flying for a major airline.
Have you ever driven a plane yourself?
Yes, I have! I’ve flown locally multiple times with my incredible flight instructor Paul Ibach.
What has helped you most when you are having a really challenging day, particularly health wise?
On days that I don’t feel very well, I generally cuddle with my pets, watch Netflix or take a nap. I have three cats and two Goldendoodles and they all sense when I need a little extra love.
Do you have any mentors in the flying field?
I do not. I am a first generation flier who is lucky enough to have a very supportive mother who found my flight instructor.
How has Miracle Flights shaped who you are today?
Miracle Flights is amazing. They have flown me to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital 18 times so far. Each of those trips has taught me more about myself and my character. I have learned that I am strong enough to push my limits and persevere through things that seem too difficult on the surface. If it weren’t for the many early morning and evening flights on various airlines and long layovers at several airports, I probably wouldn’t have begun to see myself having a career in the air. Unknowingly, Miracle Flights helped me find my passion for aviation. I’ve been told not to dream so big, but my mom told me that the sky is the limit when it comes to my dream. I’ve chosen to get paid to do something that I truly enjoy. My hope is to one day be a pilot for someone traveling with Miracle Flights, because I think it would complete the circle for me.