Was in the hospital about 6 months and
then had several major surgeries over the next couple of
years. Had something called "central nerve pain" which was
literally like being boiled in oil 24-7 with someone
continually changing the temperature. It was the
most extreme pain you can imagine and it was literally all
the time. No available drugs on the market touch central
nerve pain, and I was horribly miserable for approx two
years, sleeping literally only about 10 minutes per day.
The pain was so bad I almost lost my mind
from the sleep deprivation, and at one point I did not even
recognize my own mother when she came to my house for a
visit. Finally I got a much dreaded but much needed surgery
that literally "permenatized" my injury but finally provided
much needed relief from the continuous pain I was enduring.
That was a difficult decision to make
because opting to have this surgery, meant that no matter
what new treatments for paralysis become available, that I
would never be a candidate for any of them. They basically
went in and cut my spinal cord way above the several points
of injury, and then cut all the nerves off the spinal cord,
then burned everything up with a laser to completely destroy
all the nerve endings in the hopes they do not reconnect the
This procedure was called the "DREZ"
procedure although I still do not know what that stands for.
I do know I was only the second person in history to opt for
this procedure that was not terminally ill. But the amount
of pain I was in it was not really a choice. It was do
something, or die. It was a horribly painful procedure but
after I started to recover I immediately noticed the
"burning" pain was gone.
that I finally started to move forward somewhere around
2003. I had been living off savings and was all but out when
I started my company QualityMed Inc in 2004. We are a
company that re-markets high end surgical and medical
equipment. I seem to have found my calling with this
business and it has been a successful venture.
I guess I have always been a little
interested in aviation. However I had not really considered
it, or even knew it was a possibility for someone in a
wheelchair, until about a year ago. I was on a return
business trip from Chicago on a commercial flight where I
met United pilot Mitch Hansen. He was telling me he had a
flight school with a plane with hand controls. So that is
how I got the initial "bug in my head".
From there I called Mitch about a week
later and met him at the hangar to see the plane. I was able
to sit in the cockpit and check out the controls. Mitch
proceeded to explain every control in the cockpit, none of
which I remembered the next day. Sensory overload, too much
information ? but it worked because before I ever took my
first flight in a small plane, I was "hooked".
The studying side of it quickly became
apparent, as I had not studied anything since school and I
honestly do not remember studying then. I was the type of
student that left his books at the school. I have always
been lucky, in that I have always been good at most anything
I tried, whatever it was. I never really had to "try" at
anything. It quickly became apparent that aviation was
something different. I was really going to have to "buckle
down" and make a concentrated effort to study. Needless to
say that I got it done, and actually ended up passing my
final check-ride with the FAA with flying colors with my
examiner ending the session by saying "you are an excellent
pilot". I was very excited and proud to have completed
everything and to be a legal pilot. I was actually very very
nervous before my final test. But all of the maneuvers I was
worried about, I actually nailed on test day.
Before I had even finished with my license
I had already decided to buy my own airplane. I started by
doing tons of research on line and then went to Sun-N-Fun
and the Oshkosh airshows to look closely at the planes I was
considering. To me the Paradise seemed "the class of the
field". I liked the all metal hull, roomy interior, and
great range made this the obvious choice for me. In most
light sport planes there is simply no room for myself, a
passenger, overnight bag, and my chair. In this plane there
is room for that and more ? I also should mention that the
guys at Paradise, Paulo and Chris, are very nice and were
very willing to work with me on designing the custom hand
controls necessary for me to control the rudder and
throttle. The controls we are designing are different than
others, and designing the controls has been a give and take
process. We may well make a few more small changes as well,
but I am confident that in the end we will have an excellent
system for rudder control that can be used by the next guy
in a wheelchair that buys one. I look forward to years of
pleasure in my new Paradise airplane.
I would like to give a special thanks to
all the guys at Hansen Air, especially my Instructor Matt
Hansen of Hansen Air for sticking with me on the days I
would have crashed for sure!
For more information on the Paradise Light
Sport Aircraft models and hand control modifications
available for pilots with spinal cord injuries visit the
Paradise Aircraft website.