How a VIP flight helped an Island 4-year-old face heart surgery

This week marked the fourth heart surgery for an Island boy who is just four years old. But this trip to the IWK in Halifax wasn't a scary one for Maverick Bishop.

'He was just over the moon. He was just — he was vibrating'

Four-year-old Maverick Bishop got the chance to become a 'pilot' on his flight to have heart surgery in Halifax. (Submitted: Woodrow Bishop)

A four-year-old from Prince Edward Island is recovering from open-heart surgery at the IWK Health Centre — and his family is crediting a very special airplane ride to Halifax for helping keep the boy's spirits up before the operation.  

This was the 4th heart surgery for young Maverick Bishop, who was first operated upon as a baby just 11 days old.

This time, doctors performed a Fontan procedure, rerouting blood around his heart in order to improve the blood flow out to the rest of his body. It took all day and much of the evening, and required his heart to be stopped for more than two hours. 

But at least the trip to the IWK wasn't nerve-wracking for Maverick — or his dad, Woody Bishop. That's because, instead of driving to Halifax, they got to fly there in a four-seater, single-engine plane, thanks to a charity called Dream Wings.

"I couldn't jump on the airplane fast enough to get to P.E.I. to fly him to Halifax," said pilot Dimitri Neonakis, whose charity offers flights free of charge to children with special needs. 

"He was really looking forward to it, and what a day it was and what a great time we had up in the air!" 

'Over the moon'

Neonakis got special clearance to fly over the Confederation Bridge with his young passenger on board. And Maverick got a chance to pretend he was the pilot.  

"It was amazing. It was an amazing experience," said Neonakis. 

"And what a trooper! I call him Maverick The Top Gun. What a trooper he is, and the lesson that he gives all of us: strength. His strength and resilience is unbelievable."

Walking into the hospital for a major heart surgery with everyone knowing that he had just flown a little plane, it was pretty special ​​​​​.- Woody Bishop

Neonakis said he'll never forget how determined Maverick was to carry his own small suitcase after the flight, despite how easily he gets winded due to his heart condition.  

"It was his determination that really struck me," said Neonakis. "Before he got in the car, he said: 'I'm ready now for the doctors to fix my heart so I can play hockey.' Well, I was a little choked up."

Maverick has had four heart surgeries so far, but his family is hoping this one will be his last. (Submitted: Woodrow Bishop)

Dad Woody Bishop told CBC News the gift of that flight to Halifax lifted his entire family's spirits — and left Maverick feeling invincible ahead of his surgery. 

"He was just over the moon. He was just — he was vibrating," said Bishop. 

"To see the smile on his face coming in, walking into the hospital for a major heart surgery, with everyone knowing that he had just flown a little plane — it was pretty special as [a] dad, that's for sure."

Maverick spent much of Tuesday in surgery, and is still in intensive care. His family will have to spend several more weeks at the IWK — but they're optimistic that he won't require any more surgeries after this. 

'Take the one positive'

Bishop said it's the support from family and friends — and gestures like this flight from Neonakis — that have helped his family stay positive despite Maverick's health challenges. 

"Sometimes you're in a room and you hear all the negatives and what could go wrong," said Bishop. 

"But we've always made sure to take the one positive and just focus on that."

And the family is intent on paying it forward. 

"if we can ever do anything for any other families that's going through it, please reach out," Bishop said. "We don't have all the answers, but we've been through a lot and hopefully we can inspire — or Maverick [can] inspire — other kids or families that are going through difficult times."

Bishop said as soon as his son is well enough to return to P.E.I., the family has already been offered a ride.

Aboard Dimitri Neonakis's airplane, of course.

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