Tracy Harmon Pueblo Chieftain
Pueblo man with debilitating illness realizes ‘bucket list’ wish with helicopter ride
March 12, 2024
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  • A Pueblo man dealing with a debilitating illness defied gravity Monday, making one of his bucket list dreams come true by taking flight in a UCHealth Lifeline helicopter for a fun flight that gave him a bird’s-eye view of the region.

    “I’ve wondered what it is like to be in a helicopter,” said Cesar Malagon, 25, of Pueblo, who has muscular dystrophy. “It made me feel happy to be able to do this.”

    Malagon said his condition has made his “muscles softer and weaker over time.” As a result, he gets around with the help of a wheelchair and the assistance of his dedicated family, many of whom came to the helipad Monday to witness his big day.

    Thanks to Project Sol Flower, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to bringing joy and fulfillment to young adults ages 18-26 facing terminal illnesses and other life-limiting diseases, the wish became a reality. Inside the bright red airbus helicopter, he took off from UCHealth Parkview Pueblo West Hospital and soared over his home, Lake Pueblo and the Royal Gorge Bridge before returning to the helipad.

    Right after the helicopter disappeared, eight of Malagon’s relatives, including his mother, reacted with tears and cheers. Malagon’s sister, Mitzi Malagon, said the family was feeling mixed emotions.

    “It means a lot because it is one of his wishes to see the city and he’s really excited,” she told the Chieftain. “There are a lot of emotions — it’s good because it is one of his wishes ― it’s not great because of the circumstances.”

    How Maldanado’s wish became a reality

    Maldanado mentioned he wanted to fly in a helicopter when he was being treated for COVID-19 last November at Children’s Hospital of Colorado in Aurora. His inpatient palliative care physician, Dr. Kristen Eisenman, “recognizing the importance of quality of life, reached out to make his single wish of a helicopter ride come true,” said Todd Seip, communications director for Parkview.

    Representatives of Project Sol Flower put the wheels in motion and enlisted many helpers, including Matt Bergland, south region program manager for LifeLine. Bergland oversees the deployment of LifeLine’s three southern Colorado helicopters stationed in Pueblo, Colorado Springs and La Junta as well as the pilots, nurses and paramedics that staff them.

    “They are amazing clinicians and they are giving him the VIP tour,” Bergland said.

    Tagging along for the tour was Malagon’s cousin, Erick Daniel Avila.

    “We do everything together,” Malagon said of his cousin. “I am just thankful for this happening and all the people involved.”

    “There are good people out there,” Mitzi Malagon said of all the angels who helped make the dream come true for her brother.

    In addition to the helicopter ride, Malagon was presented with a red toy helicopter to remind him of the special day and a jersey signed by Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams.