Hope for Flyers Battling Disease
Paul Engstrom, Aviation Writer and IFA Member
Worried that the feds
will automatically ground you because of high blood pressure, a heart
condition, stroke, epilepsy, alcoholism or some other serious ailment?
Statistics from the
Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aeromedical Institute in
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, should ease your concern. Did you know, for
example, that more than 24,000 private pilots taking medication for
high blood pressure were certified in 1999?
Another 2,557 general
aviation pilots certified that year had previously suffered a heart
attack, 137 were relying on a mechanical heart valve, 741 had had a
stroke, 154 were battling epilepsy, 436 were fighting alcoholism,
2,364 had acceptable vision in only one eye and 103 were living with a
transplanted liver or kidney.
Close to 4,500 diabetic
aviators'nearly triple the number just five years earlier'won
certification, too, according to Dr. Warren Silberman, manager of the
FAA's Aeromedical Certification Division, also in Oklahoma City.
Indeed, the agency ended its outright ban on pilots with
insulin-treated diabetes mellitus in late 1996.
The bottom line: Pilots
are finding it much easier now than in years past to get or maintain
'discretionary medical certification' if they have health problems.
Such certification means the FAA has determined that while the
applicant doesn't strictly meet its medical standards, he or she can
still fly safely under certain conditions.
The agency has raised the
bar because of new treatments and medical advances that enable
otherwise unhealthy pilots to perform up to par, according to Stanley
Mohler, MD, director of Aerospace Medicine at Wright State University
School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio.
These new therapies and
advances range from effective drugs and better diagnostic techniques,
such as imaging, to laser surgery, highly functional prosthetics,
more-successful organ transplants, the insertion of devices called
stents to boost blood flow through clogged arteries, and a better
understanding of addiction.
Also, as medical
professionals have learned in recent years, proper lifestyle and
behavior can play a huge role in reversing the fallout from disease,
to the point that once-disabled pilots can return to the skies. Less
salt and alcohol, maintaining proper weight and more exercise, for
instance, are key to managing high blood pressure without drugs.
But to keep or regain
medical certification, pilots can't just acknowledge the possibility
of better health, says Mohler at Wright State University. Aviation
medical examiners want evidence of improvement, he says, be it through
treatment or lifestyle changes that bespeak a can-do attitude.
See the related article 'How to Speed Your
When he isn't flying, Paul Engstrom writes and
edits from Sebastopol, CA
The information contained herein is meant for
informational purposes only. Neither IFA, nor Paul Engstrom assume any
responsibility or liability for events that occur due to actions you
or others on your behalf take based on the information given in this
article. You are proceeding at your own risk. It is strongly advised
that you seek the opinion and advice of a qualified aviation medical
examiner and appropriate medical physician for any medical needs you