Animals helped junior Brandon Stevens through chemo treatment, now he volunteers to fly them to new homes
Making cross-country flights is something Brandon Stevens does all the time in his training at Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus as a junior in the professional pilot program. Currently working on his commercial certificate, Stevens’ time in the air is required for building hours and learning fundamentals like flight planning and navigation.
On the weekends, however, the Brush, Colorado native enjoys flying a different kind of cross-country trip, one that contains precious cargo and is for a good cause. Using his own money to rent an aircraft and pay for fuel, Stevens volunteers with the organization Pilots N Paws transporting animals to their new home. It’s an initiative he heard about a few years ago from a flight instructor when he first started getting interested in aviation, and after earning his private pilot certificate at K-State Polytechnic, Stevens knew he wanted to get involved.
“I feel so fortunate to have become a pilot. Not everyone has the financial means, ability or health to do this, but everything kind of aligned for me and I’m grateful. Now I want to be able to give back and help others,” said Stevens.
The deep appreciation Stevens has for being able to fly stems from a time when his sky-high ambitions were nearly taken from him. Right after graduating from high school – and discovering his passion for aviation – Stevens was diagnosed with testicular cancer that subsequently turned into lymphoma. Instead of enrolling at K-State Polytechnic in the fall of 2015, he endured surgery and five months of chemotherapy.
While the process was physically and emotionally draining, Stevens credits a few furry friends with helping him get through the cancer treatments. Along with his own personal pets, therapy dogs would visit the facility and act as a comfort and much-needed distraction.
“I will never forget sitting in a chair going through chemo and having a pup come up to me. It cheered me up right away,” said Stevens.
Even though his cancer went into remission, Stevens was not able to immediately fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot because he couldn’t get his flight medical. After working as a construction electrician for more than a year and undergoing regular cancer scans, he finally got clearance from a doctor to be able to fly. Stevens immediately applied to K-State Polytechnic and entered the professional pilot program in the fall of 2017.
Joining the volunteers of Pilots N Paws later that year became a full circle moment for Stevens. Animals came to his rescue during a grueling battle with cancer and he has returned the favor, supporting four-legged friends in their time of need. Stevens has assisted with five transportations so far, which consists of coordinating each trip, renting the aircraft, and picking up the pet passengers from one location and flying them to their next destination.
Every weekend, Stevens looks on the Pilots N Paws website for his next opportunity to serve and give pets a new lease on life. Each animal has a different story, from being abandoned to evacuated to rescued; but no matter their situation, Stevens is excited to volunteer his flying skills because he knows firsthand your past doesn’t have to define your future.