Taking the high route to deliver for the holidays

“Collecting donations for the airlift has been rewarding, and I love seeing colleagues being so charitable for the holidays. Giving back to underserved communities is so important to us and is something our institute is passionate about.” — Carina Mendoza, Outreach Coordinator, Thomas D. Boyer Liver Institute

(From left) Liz Bonorand, executive assistant for the University of Arizona Thomas Boyer Liver Institute, and Carina Mendoza, outreach coordinator for the institute, hand donations to Geoffrey Block, MD, MSc, FACP, who delivered them to the Navajo Nation earlier this month.

Geoffrey Block, MD, MSc, FACP, is a clinical professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology of the Department of Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson and interim director of the UArizona Thomas D. Boyer Liver institute. He just added one more credential – stand-in Santa.

No reindeer needed

[Two men fist bump on a small airplane]Dr. Block, a pilot, delivered nearly 390 pounds of donated goods collected by the Liver Institute as part of the annual Navajo Christmas Airlift. He was one of two pilots from Tucson along with others in a five-state region to participate in the airlift. They delivered about 30,000 pounds of toys, clothing, school supplies, food and other necessities to the Navajo Nation.

“I am pleased to participate, and I am enthusiastic about establishing Tucson’s presence,” said Dr. Block, a transplant hepatologist who’s been flying since 1978.

Now in its 39th year, pilots from across Arizona, Utah, Colorado, California and New Mexico load their planes with donations for distribution to residents of the Nation, which covers 27,425 square miles in portions of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico.

The area is heavily rural, and many communities don’t have running water or electricity, said Gregory McColley, whose parents, Dick and Betty, started the community service project in 1985. Back then, eight planes delivered about 1,500 pounds of donations. This is the first year Tucson has had a presence thanks to Block, who recruited his hangar neighbor Tim Marshall, a retired private practice interventional cardiologist.

“It is because of community-service oriented pilots such as Geoff and Tim that the airlift has continued to increase its support of the Navajo Nation,” McColley said. “The pilots and their donors are the heroes that have enabled the efforts to grow from eight planes to now over 80.”

Flying through graduate school

As a student, Dr. Block, now the medical director of liver transplant at Banner University Medical Center – Tucson, was interested in flying, even while earning degrees in molecular biology, math and computer engineering.

[An aerial view from a small airplane with a rainbow]He went through aerospace medicine training and became an aerospace medical examiner. He also trains with and flies with the United States Air Force Civil Air Patrol and supports the Federal Emergency Management Agency on air-based search and rescue missions.

Last year, Dr. Block planted the seed with Liver Institute staff to participate in the Navajo Christmas Airlift. By July, donation boxes were out, and word was spreading throughout the College of Medicine – Tucson.

“We got a lot of donations, which was great. They took up half of our office,” said Carina Mendoza, outreach coordinator for the Liver Institute. “Collecting donations for the airlift has been rewarding, and I love seeing colleagues being so charitable for the holidays. Giving back to underserved communities is so important to us and is something our institute is passionate about.”

[Christmas donations in a box waiting in an airplane hanger to be loaded onto the waiting plane]From Nov. 9-11, pilots delivered their donations. Dr. Block flew his Piper Arrow III out of Tucson International Airport and made stops in Winslow, Arizona, and Gallup, New Mexico. Tucked in with the blankets and toiletries were education materials about the risks, prevention and treatment of liver disease.

“Boyer Liver Institute’s mission is to reduce liver disease burden in people throughout Arizona through whatever means it can and especially in communities where people are underserved and have limited resources,” Dr. Block said.

Mendoza said the institute is already talking about helping with the airlift again.

“This year’s donation collection was so successful,” she said. “Hopefully, next year we can get even more staff and community members to donate.”

“Liver Institute Director to fly donations to Navajo Nation” | Posted Nov. 9, 2023
“‘Top Doctors’ for 2023 Out in Tucson Lifestyles” | Posted April 11, 2023

Release Date: 
11/21/2023 - 8:15am
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