We had no idea when I snapped this picture that it would be the last time Danny would return from a day of flying the C-130H Hercules with his unit at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. He’d put in nearly 20 years with the Air Force, most of them as a Flight Engineer, and still had many years to go before any planned retirement. Though he had complained of feeling out-of-sorts, seriously fatigued and generally ill, when he came home that day, we had not connected the dots to something much greater than just a little bug.
It was a month later we learned that he had suffered two TIA’s, or “mini-strokes,” while flying that were the cause of some of his symptoms. The second time, the stroke-like symptoms were clear to even me, as one side of his face and body went completely slack and he was unable to speak or reason. Terrifying as it was, it was only temporary, and not nearly as terrifying as the underlying cause of the blood clots that were forming and traveling to his brain: Lymphoma.
Fast forward three and a half years: Danny is completely cancer-free and at no risk of another stroke occurring. He returned to flying for Frontier Airlines in August, 2010, and then had to go back on disability status a few months later. We decided to keep this news to ourselves, because at the time we had no idea what the future held and it came as a terrible blow to us both, just when we thought we were finally returning to life as normal.
Chemo causes all sorts of nasty side-effects – one of them being heart damage. For Danny, this means Beta-blockers for the rest of his life. When it was decided by Danny’s doctor that his heart medication needed to be switched, the FAA required a waiting period to monitor his health.
Many of our plans were suddenly put on hold, including the one I had announced to do some traveling. It wasn’t long before we decided that even after Danny returned to work, we should put our travel plans on the back burner until we got our feet firmly planted back on the ground.
We would have a few more hiccups, but, Danny is finally back on a regular schedule with Frontier as of this month. Phew!
Back to the military… after a long and tireless fight not to be medically retired from the Air Force, Danny was allowed to return to his C-130 unit, even though they won’t allow him to fly for another two years. With the current military cutbacks, there was no way Danny would be allowed to just do desk work for the next two years, so he’s being transferred to the engine shop, with plans to eventually transfer to Space Command at Buckley Air Force Base here in Aurora where we live.
Last weekend, as is tradition, Danny was allowed his official “final flight” on the C-130. After over three years of being out of the cockpit, he was really just a passenger on the plane, but it was no less momentous as if he had been in the Flight Engineer seat himself.
Here are some snapshots from Danny’s final flight, the traditional marking of the occasion by his buddies afterward and our own private tour of the plane and cockpit…
Upward and onward!