Diabetic Pilot Flies High To Raise Money For Disease

Cairns Hopes To Encourage Other Diabetics To Achieve Dreams

Diabetes Awareness Month is coming to an end, but throughout the month diabetics across the country found inspiration and support from a diabetic pilot who is proud to show how he's not letting the disease hold him back.

Flying is a complicated business. There are lots of things to worry about. It starts with a multi-point inspection of the plane, an oil check, a confirmation of the flight path and even window cleaning.

But for Douglas Cairns, (pictured, right), a pilot with Type 1 diabetes, there is an additional step involved -- he needs to check his blood sugar level.

Cairns calls it just another cockpit procedure. From start to finish, the test takes about 30 seconds.

It is the management of his diabetes, before flying, each hour while airborne and before landing, that allows him to carry out a life-long love of flying.

"Without fail, people have been very positive and encouraging about it," Cairns said.

But it wasn't always this way.

About 15 years ago, Cairns was a pilot in the British Royal Air Force. At that time, he was diagnosed with insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetes.

"I couldn't even get a private pilot's license anywhere in the world, so my career was over," Cairns told 10News.

More than a decade passed, but Cairns never lost sight of his dream. He wanted to fly again.

"I'd always been fascinated about stories of around-the-world flights in tiny airplanes," Cairns said.

In 1999, the United States Federal Aviation Administration implemented a program that allows people with Type 1 diabetes to fly with full, unrestricted pilot's licenses providing they have the condition in check. Cairns finally got his license back.

"Fortunately, I've been well-controlled from the word go, (which was) almost 16 years ago. I met the medical requirements and came to the states and got my private pilot's license," Cairns said.

The license to fly is a gift Cairns doesn't take for granted, which is why he decided to use the new-found opportunity to help others with diabetes.

"When I realized I could get (my) license back, I suddenly thought, 'Why not do something similar yourself and tie it in with raising awareness for diabetes and funds for diabetes research?'" Cairns told 10News.

He came up with the idea for the "Diabetes World Flight."

Five months, 63 flights and 22 countries later, Cairns has circled the earth in his twin-engine Barron -- a personal crusade that ended up having a far-reaching effect.

"To me it was very important to demonstrate the safety of the U.S. flying system and demonstrate to aviation authorities around the world that you can fly safely," Cairns said.

For more than four years and over 1,200 flight hours, Cairns is showing the world it can be done.

Now he hopes to open the door for other diabetics who have been barred from their love of flying or other work in other industries.

"Diabetes need not limit the scope of people's dreams and ambitions, that's really the message," Cairns said.

Cairns said it's all a matter of managing the condition. It just takes a bit of effort.

"I'd love to see the implementation of the principle of equal opportunity based on individual assessment," Cairns said.

For more information on Douglas's world flight, visit www.diabetesworldflight.com.

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