You never know where life is going to take you ... So far, it had been working out quite well; I was in my 21st year with British Airways, in the Captain’s seat of the Boeing 747- 400; a dream job - I flew the world. Then, in spring of 2009, a stomach issue led to blood tests and to my learning that I had been afflicted with Hepatitis for about 30 years…Yikes!
Dr. Chris Tibbs, of the UK’s Royal Surrey Hospital, said I'd need a 6-9 month course of medications to try and eradicate it. The prescribed drug regimen, while grueling to some, was handled by me well enough.
So, in the autumn of 2009, to distract us from the many medical issues, I was joined by my dedicated spouse Corrine, a private pilot and BA purser, and we headed off to fly a US, coast- to-coast trip, in our Cessna 172XP. Then, back at our Surrey, England home, on Valentine’s Day 2010, I awoke and began throwing up; a massive hemorrhage ensued with the Royal Surrey Hospital’s Dr. Tibbs working for many hours to save my life…I'm only here today because of him and the amazing team there.
For two months, I was in and out of a coma, having suffered total liver and kidney failure. I was then taken to King's College Hospital in London, which is the world's largest specialist liver transplant unit; my wife Corrine was told that I had two weeks to live. On day 14, a suitable organ became available; I received my new liver and began my “new life.”
By then, I had been in bed for two months and would be there for another two. I faced having to learn how to walk again, as my weight had dropped to 130 pounds from 230. My beloved career at British Airways looked to be over but, I was alive - unlike so many who suffer organ failure. I have since learned much about the importance of organ donations and transplants. An organ donor saved my life; now it was time to make certain that this second chance I was given would have meaning. And flying is what I knew and loved so…
With my life seeming to be in tatters, I thought “why not fly our little plane a stupidly long way in support of the importance of organ donation?” If I was going to lose my Jumbo, I would make our Cessna 172, based at our other home, on historic Nantucket Island (MA,) into “our new Jumbo.”
Where would we go? Flying east or west meant oceans. Heading north would be was too cold. That left one option - flying south: “Cape Cod to Cape Horn.” So the incredibly supportive Corrine handed me a map of South America; I found a pen as long as a 49 gallon tank of gas and sure enough, it was possible. People nodded politely and changed the subject when I discussed the flight; they thought it was the meds or that I was simply crazy. Neither was true!
By now, I had cracked my femur and two ribs due to my bones losing density. In spite of these setbacks, bit by bit, plans for the flight began to come together as did the urge to head out to the Falklands Islands, 400 miles offshore. Only an “idiot” or a Brit would fly to the Falkland Islands in a Cessna 172. So much for “not being crazy.”
Leaving from Nantucket Island, Corrine and I flew to Florida and beginning in January, 2012, we flew throughout the Caribbean. We crossed to the South American mainland and after stopping in Guyana, flew down the east coast of SA - all the while getting plenty of press talking about organ donation issues. Our angle was that perhaps we were doing this 23,000 mile flight in the “wrong” airplane, but then it would not have been as much fun… And frankly, the Cessna 172XP performed beautifully.
Most of the flying took place below 1,000 feet, as we danced among flocks of scarlet ibis, elephant seals and penguins lining the beaches. We were heading from the Roaring Forties into the Furious Fifties when we posted this from our joint blogs on our website, www.flight4lives.com:
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