Why not do this?
I was finalizing my article for AOPA Pilot when “you’ve got mail” rang in my ears. This email changed the next few days of my life and hopefully, it can have a similar effect on you.
Chris McLaughlin is a 47 year old retired British Airways 747-400 captain – why retired so young? Wind the clock back thirty years when a motorcycle accident necessitated a blood transfusion. Little did he know, but this was probably the day an unwanted visitor entered his bloodstream, the insidious Hepatitis C virus. Completely asymptomatic for many years, the virus slowly but surely damaged his liver until the fateful day a couple of years back when he vomited blood due to varices around his esophagus – swollen veins that make the gullet look like the lower leg of an old lady. Chris survived this emergency and further investigation led to the diagnosis of hepatitis C.
Like many others in his situation, the first step was to start him on drugs to try and reduce the viral load and allow the liver to recover – it does have remarkable powers of regeneration after all. Unfortunately for Chris this did not work out and while taking a sabbatical from flying for the airline, he collapsed and ended up critically ill in London’s Kings Cross Hospital.
Looking back to 1995 Chris had met Corrine, a sparkling Londoner who served as a Purser on BA while both were on a layover in Bermuda. They married, she took up Chris’s love of flying and in 2005 secured her private pilots license. Now, however, she was very definitely not in control; Chris was in a coma and at death’s door unless a donor could be found. On day 14 this happened and he underwent a liver transplant. A lengthy recovery involved learning to walk again and rebuilding his strength.
But once out of the hospital, Chris knew he was only half the man he was – he could not fly. However, with the help of Gary Crump at AOPA and Dr. Warren Silberman at FAA, Chris secured his Third Class Medical in June 2011 and is about to embark on a remarkable adventure. Together with Corrine they are going to fly their Cessna 172XP from Maine to the tip of Argentina to raise awareness of donor shortages, encourage people to consider getting tested for hepatitis C and raising money for liver research. You can follow their progress at www.flight4lives.com.
Hepatitis C is a wily creature, transmitted silently during transfusions in the past, all blood is now tested for it, so you can do good for others and yourself by becoming a blood donor. Non-sterile tattoos can also be a source, so if you want to be emblazoned with “Mum” or some other suitable slogan, make sure you go to a reputable parlor. Drug use or certain sexual practices can also lead to an infection as can something as innocent as borrowing someone else’s toothbrush.
Every day in the USA 18 people die while awaiting a transplant of liver, kidney, lung or heart and this is purely because not enough people carry a donor card. After death an organ donor can impact so many lives that one is inspired to ask, why not be a donor?
Chris and Corrine will be at Summit so come and say hello, follow their progress online and consider supporting their noble mission.
September 13, 2011