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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedPilot with MS achieves his goal to build and fly
By Kelly Nelson, EAA AirVenture Today

Photo by Phil Weston
Tim Garrett, who has multiple sclerosis (MS), stands in front of his Zenith 601 XL, which he flew to AirVenture.

August 1, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin - On Tuesday morning, when Tim Garrett’s Zenith 601 XL touched down at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, he was able to check another item off of his “dream” list.

“Right when you turn downwind, when you can look out and finally see the whole place from the air, I got really emotional,” he said.

“I was not expecting that.”

Tim said his emotional arrival was actually the second part of his dream.

The first dream was to build the plane; that effort took him exactly four years, 11 months, and two weeks.

Twenty years ago Tim was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system. This degenerative malady interferes with the communication between the brain and the rest of the body.

“At that time, in 1989, there was nothing anyone could do,” Tim said. “I assumed I couldn’t fly anymore, couldn’t pursue my dream, and I had some really bad years where I couldn’t do anything.”

In the early ’90s, however, things began to change for the better, and some new drug therapies for MS patients were introduced. That’s when Tim decided he was going to get back in the air, and he began the process of getting a special issuance third class medical.

That process took about a year and required a letter from his neurologist specifically evaluating his vision, strength, and coordination.

Tim, a full-time aircraft designer for Boeing in St. Louis, Missouri, has since taken on a role as spokesperson for the drug company that manufactures the medication he takes. As part of Team COPAXONE (www.FlyingwithMS.com), he speaks to patient programs across the country, making the point that it’s still possible to pursue your dreams after a diagnosis of MS.

“I’ve been living with MS for 20 years,” he said. “I’ve worked nearly every day.

“When I was building my airplane, I would put in my eight hours of work, then go home and work another three hours on the airplane.”

The build was not without its challenges from the range of symptoms caused by the disease, including numbness, weakness, and fatigue.

“When you have something going on with your brain like that it can affect your cognitive ability,” he said. “Building an airplane is the peak of cognitive tasking…

“I ran a cognitive marathon.”

Those symptoms are part of the reason he chose to build a metal aircraft. “I could walk away from it, so it gave me some flexibility for scheduling to work around any problems or symptoms I had.”

He now has a little more than 155 hours on his aircraft and couldn’t be prouder to have it sitting on the flightline this year.

“Don’t give up your dreams,” he said. “You can always find a way.

“If there’s something that absolutely keeps you from flying, there are always other things you can do…but the main thing is you have to find something to give you that power to live with the disease.”

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