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MERCY FLIGHT PUBLICIST, 19, SPEAKS FROM EXPERIENCE

Good thing Western New York's weather was better back on Sept. 27, 1981, than it was Wednesday, when much of the area was fogged in. Otherwise Matthew Schrantz might still be in Children's Hospital, looking for a lift back to Springville.

Matt, then less than a month old, was fighting a staph infection after surgery to repair a defective stomach valve, and was due to be transferred to Bertrand Chaffee Hospital, near his home, to recover. But there was an areawide shortage of ambulances, many of which had been assigned to stand by at Rich Stadium, where the Rolling Stones were performing.

As it happened, Mercy Flight had just gone into business and sent a helicopter to Children's to pick up its first passenger -- Matt.

The story has come full circle. Schrantz, now a 19-year-old University at Buffalo honor student, joined Mercy Flight recently as community events coordinator. He plans to talk about his experience to help raise money for the independent, not-for-profit lifesaving service, which depends on private contributions for about half of its $3.2 million budget.

Mercy Flight, which has three helicopters based in Woodlawn and Olean, "serves the entire community, whether you're an infant, an adult or an elderly person," he said. "This will be an outstanding opportunity to work with people -- especially community groups."

He'll have a good yarn to tell. Nearly 11,000 critically ill or injured people have been airlifted by the agency since Matt was flown to Springville accompanied by his mother, Darlene, who was a registered nurse at Bertrand Chaffee and is currently nurse-manager of the hospital's obstetrics department.

Schrantz is a natural for the job, said Mark Robinson, Mercy Flight development director.

The young man showed a knack for public relations when a helicopter plunked him down in the middle of what was then Pilot Field in 1991 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his historic flight. Matt coolly threw out the first pitch before a Buffalo Bisons game.

He showcased his public speaking talents at a breakfast Mercy Flight held for state legislators 18 months ago.

"I really enjoyed talking about my experience," Schrantz said.

"He did a wonderful job," Robinson said.

Schrantz, a history major and full-time sophomore in the UB honors program, will work part time at Mercy Flight headquarters on Lakeshore Road in Woodlawn during the academic year, and full time over the summer.

He plans to enter law school after finishing his undergraduate work.

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