As one of the co-founders of Samaritan Aviation, Mark Palm already had a hectic life when living near the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. Whether he was applying anti-venom to a snake bite or helping to fly a woman in labor to the only nearby hospital, there was never a quiet moment in his life. Unfortunately, this exhausting lifestyle didn’t change when he and his family moved back to the United States. Mark was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma in late 2019.
Now in remission two years later, it’s interesting for Mark to look back.
“I lived over [in Papua New Guinea] for 10 years with my family,” Mark said. “I found out I had cancer three months after we returned. I was very fortunate to face cancer … here in America.”
It can be jarring to see the differences in health care and life quality between the United States and the small villages along the Sepik River Mark tends to in Papua New Guinea.
“Right now, they don’t have any capabilities for that type of cancer,” Mark said. “If I was born in New Guinea and was living in those villages, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
Mark and Samaritan Aviation are working to improve medical care in the remote areas that they serve in Papua New Guinea. With the only nearby hospital being between one and three days away for most people, a new mode of emergency transportation was definitely needed. When Samaritan Aviation was founded in 2000, it brought a seaplane to transport patients between villages and the hospital. In the over 20 years that Samaritan Aviation has been providing support, it has helped people with a large variety of medical issues and emergencies.
“Forty percent of our flights are mothers and babies,” Mark said. “There’s a lot of things out there that the people deal with in those remote communities. Snake bites, malaria, tuberculosis, crocodile bites, bird attacks. Aviation provides hope to those who don’t have it.”
Transporting patients isn’t all they do to help. With a program called Ministry Hospital, Samaritan Aviation helps to provide food, clothing, and support for patients while at the hospital. For nonemergency situations, it also provides medical supplies for the villages.
“We serve 40 different remote clinics with basic medical supplies,” Mark said. “This last year we served 119 villages that were directly impacted [by COVID].”
Now that Mark is in remission, he plans to go back to Papua New Guinea and bring them PPE and other critical medical supplies, as well as continue to fly patients. Along with supplies, Mark is bringing a new seaplane, which can be seen on display at the EAA Seaplane Base.
“We use Cessna 206s on amphibious floats,” Mark explained. “We buy an older airplane and do a lot of modifications. The government of Papua New Guinea asked us to expand our operations to the Western Province of the island, so that’s where this airplane will be going, to expand our operations.”
Though they get a lot of help from the government of Papua New Guinea, Samaritan Aviation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
“We’re a Christian nongovernmental organization,” Mark said. “The heart of Samaritan Aviation is to serve, to offer medical services to these remote communities. Our goal as an organization is to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people out in the remote communities.”
Samaritan Aviation is based at the EAA Seaplane Base. There, Samaritan Aviation and Mark will be presenting their new seaplane, as well as selling merchandise and sharing their stories.
“We’d love to talk to people about what we’re doing,” Mark said, “and talk about how aviation is making a huge impact on these remote communities.”