For most people a psychiatric or cancer diagnosis is a crisis. My joy is to be able to lessen some of the burden.

Gina Russo (center) with a family she helped.
Gina Russo (center) with a family she helped.

Cancer patients who can't get the treatment they need near home endure a double calamity: "They have the initial crisis of a diagnosis and then have this second crisis of, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can't get the care I need,' " says Gina Russo '00.

Russo is the newly appointed executive director of Corporate Angel Network, a 35-year-old nonprofit that places cancer patients and their companions in empty seats on corporate jets, free of charge, with no age or income limits, so they can receive the best treatment for their specific type of cancer, anywhere in the United States.

CAN, based at Westchester Airport in White Plains, N.Y., made its 50,000th flight in April, sending a toddler and his parents home to Atlanta from New York City, where he'd been treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for a rare eye cancer (see photo above). Some 500 companies, including half the Fortune 100, donate seats on jets — some with executives aboard, others for empty trip legs. Many contribute hours — particularly hours about to expire — on fractional-ownership jets.

Russo grew up in Westchester County, N.Y. Before she entered high school, her parents, a pediatric registered nurse and an auto mechanic, moved the family to Armonk, N.Y., so their two daughters could attend rigorous Byram Hills High School. This "wonderful gift" set her sights high.

At Bucknell, two years of student intern service in the Race/Gender Resource Center instilled a lifelong mission: to "level the playing field" so life essentials such as health care and education are available to all. She graduated with a double major, in women's studies and sociology.

After earning a master of social work degree from New York University, she briefly envisioned "being a very fancy private therapist." But when 9/11 occurred just blocks from her home, she found a calling in crisis intervention, first in psychiatric settings and then for 11 years at the national headquarters of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, where she was executive director of patient access and information before moving to CAN.

"For most people a psychiatric or cancer diagnosis is a crisis," she says. "My joy is to be able to lessen some of the burden."

To donate flight time, contact her at grusso@corpangelnetwork.org, 914-328-4201.

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