As a senior in high school, Mike had his sights set on becoming a commercial airline pilot. But the sudden onset of a high fever, coupled with hot flashes and chills, had him heading to the emergency room instead. Mike checked in to Community Medical Center in Missoula, Montana, on the advice of his pediatrician, where he underwent several tests. His labs returned abnormal, and it was discovered that he had an enlarged spleen—both of which were highly concerning. Mike’s care team consulted with a specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and they determined he needed to get to Seattle as soon as possible. Life Flight Network was dispatched immediately to provide critical care fixed-wing transport.
In Seattle, Mike was diagnosed with HLH, a rare disease that causes the body’s immune system to kick into overdrive. Abnormal white blood cells were attacking his other blood cells, building up in his liver, kidneys, and spleen, and pushing his organs to near failure. Mike recalls that one of the hardest things about his diagnosis wasn’t how sick he felt but how rare the disease is, “Not knowing what was going to happen to me was the scariest part.”
Mike fought for his life in Seattle for three weeks, receiving high-dose steroids and chemotherapy. His treatments were successful, and he is home now, pursuing his dream of becoming a pilot. His plan, however, has changed a bit. “Words can’t describe how grateful I am for Life Flight Network. That wild night has inspired me to one day become a Life Flight Network fixed-wing pilot,” said Mike. “I have been talking to a PC-12 pilot out of Boise on social media, and he’s explained how amazing this career is and is helping me understand the steps I need to take to become a Life Flight Network pilot.”
One of the largest barriers to becoming a pilot, and a leading factor in the pilot shortage in the United States, is the cost of obtaining the necessary training and licensure. While he was hospitalized, Mike was nominated for the Make-A-Wish program by Seattle Children’s Hospital. He asked for scholarship money to put towards his aviation training. This summer, he received his scholarship from the Make-A-Wish Foundation in a small ceremony held at Life Flight Network’s Missoula base—a gesture of thanks to the program that helped save his life. Mike has made great progress toward his goal, passing his FAA private pilot written exam, enrolling in the commercial pilot program at Big Bend Community College, and accruing flight hours. We hope to see him on the flight line in the future.