Hopewell hospital ‘still battling’ COVID-19, student pilot flies in donations as the need for PPE remains

The Tri-Cities

Student pilot TJ Kim talks with John Randolph Medical Center CEO Joe Mazzo after delivering a load of PPE to the hospital via airplane. (Photo: 8News Reporter Sabrina Shutters)

HOPEWELL, Va (WRIC) – One teen pilot is using his flight training hours to deliver personal protective equipment to hospitals in need across Virginia in what he calls Operation SOS.

John Randolph Medical Center in Hopewell is one of those hospitals that student pilot TJ Kim reached out to, asking if they would take the supplies.

HCA Healthcare associate vice president of communications Jeff Caldwell said the first six to eight months were the hardest for the hospital system, having to learn how to secure resources amid the pandemic while so many unknowns about the virus remained.

After an hour-and-a-half flight, 17-year-old Kim landed a Cessna plane at the Chesterfield County Airport Wednesday morning, dropping off thousands of pieces of PPE.

The Cessna plane TJ Kim used to deliver thousands of pieces of PPE stands idle after the delivery. (Photo: 8News Reporter Sabrina Shutters)

Even with the vaccine rollout, JRMC still needs the equipment to treat people still battling COVID-19.

“It’s still real and we’re still battling it,” JRMC CEO Joe Mazzo said. “We’ve been fighting this for gosh, over a year now, and so any attention to this and our frontline workers is extraordinarily helpful.”

Kim has been using his student flight training hours to serve the community, delivering PPE to several hospitals within a 90-minute trip from where he lives in Leesburg, Virginia.

“When everything first began to shut down, flight training was one of the only things that remained open,” he told 8News Wednesday.

Appreciative of the PPE, Mazzo recalls the height of the pandemic, seeing a healthcare worker treating COVID-19 at JRMC, while her own daughter battled the virus down the hall in JRMC’s intensive care unit.

“Watching her and knowing how close of a family we are and her battle and her daughter’s battle, we were fortunate that it was a wonderful story. She went home. She’s actually now working for us,” he said.

Student pilot TJ Kim talks with Hopewell hospital CEO Joe Mazzo following a PPE delivery. (Photo: 8News Reporter Sabrina Shutters)

Kim said he’ll continue serving area hospitals in need.

“As long as there’s a need out there, I’m going to keep coming out there to try to help,” he said.

Mazzo told 8News although there is a need for PPE, JRMC was lucky and was able to learn from facilities out west in how to secure resources, so they didn’t hit a shortage unlike many hospitals across the country.

He also mentioned they constantly learned, evolved and adapted as guidelines about the pandemic changed and that they didn’t have to lay off or furlough any employees.

Kim’s final test to become a pilot is coming up in the near future.

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