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Dylan finds Paradise!

by Dylan C Redd

I broke my back in 1999 at which time I was an up and coming drummer, and ran a small landscaping company. Both those fell by the wayside though. Anyway … I fell asleep and hit a tree. Was in the hospital about 6 months and then had several major surgeries over the next couple of years. Had something called "central nerve pain" which was literally like being boiled in oil 24-7 with someone continually changing the temperature. It was the most extreme pain you can imagine and it was literally all the time. No available drugs on the market touch central nerve pain, and I was horribly miserable for approx two years, sleeping literally only about 10 minutes per day.

The pain was so bad I almost lost my mind from the sleep deprivation, and at one point I did not even recognize my own mother when she came to my house for a visit. Finally I got a much dreaded but much needed surgery that literally "permenatized" my injury but finally provided much needed relief from the continuous pain I was enduring.

That was a difficult decision to make because opting to have this surgery, meant that no matter what new treatments for paralysis become available, that I would never be a candidate for any of them. They basically went in and cut my spinal cord way above the several points of injury, and then cut all the nerves off the spinal cord, then burned everything up with a laser to completely destroy all the nerve endings in the hopes they do not reconnect the "pain".

This procedure was called the "DREZ" procedure although I still do not know what that stands for. I do know I was only the second person in history to opt for this procedure that was not terminally ill. But the amount of pain I was in it was not really a choice. It was do something, or die. It was a horribly painful procedure but after I started to recover I immediately noticed the "burning" pain was gone.

After that I finally started to move forward somewhere around 2003. I had been living off savings and was all but out when I started my company QualityMed Inc in 2004. We are a company that re-markets high end surgical and medical equipment. I seem to have found my calling with this business and it has been a successful venture.

I guess I have always been a little interested in aviation. However I had not really considered it, or even knew it was a possibility for someone in a wheelchair, until about a year ago. I was on a return business trip from Chicago on a commercial flight where I met United pilot Mitch Hansen. He was telling me he had a flight school with a plane with hand controls. So that is how I got the initial "bug in my head".

From there I called Mitch about a week later and met him at the hangar to see the plane. I was able to sit in the cockpit and check out the controls. Mitch proceeded to explain every control in the cockpit, none of which I remembered the next day. Sensory overload, too much information … but it worked because before I ever took my first flight in a small plane, I was "hooked".

Dylan beside Paradise USA plane at airstrip Paradise plane taxing on runway

The studying side of it quickly became apparent, as I had not studied anything since school and I honestly do not remember studying then. I was the type of student that left his books at the school. I have always been lucky, in that I have always been good at most anything I tried, whatever it was. I never really had to "try" at anything. It quickly became apparent that aviation was something different. I was really going to have to "buckle down" and make a concentrated effort to study. Needless to say that I got it done, and actually ended up passing my final check-ride with the FAA with flying colors with my examiner ending the session by saying "you are an excellent pilot". I was very excited and proud to have completed everything and to be a legal pilot. I was actually very very nervous before my final test. But all of the maneuvers I was worried about, I actually nailed on test day.

Cockpit showing custom hand controls

Before I had even finished with my license I had already decided to buy my own airplane. I started by doing tons of research on line and then went to Sun-N-Fun and the Oshkosh airshows to look closely at the planes I was considering. To me the Paradise seemed "the class of the field". I liked the all metal hull, roomy interior, and great range made this the obvious choice for me. In most light sport planes there is simply no room for myself, a passenger, overnight bag, and my chair. In this plane there is room for that and more … I also should mention that the guys at Paradise, Paulo and Chris, are very nice and were very willing to work with me on designing the custom hand controls necessary for me to control the rudder and throttle. The controls we are designing are different than others, and designing the controls has been a give and take process. We may well make a few more small changes as well, but I am confident that in the end we will have an excellent system for rudder control that can be used by the next guy in a wheelchair that buys one. I look forward to years of pleasure in my new Paradise airplane.

I would like to give a special thanks to all the guys at Hansen Air, especially my Instructor Matt Hansen of Hansen Air for sticking with me on the days I would have crashed for sure!

Footnote

For more information on the Paradise Light Sport Aircraft models and hand control modifications available for pilots with spinal cord injuries visit the Paradise Aircraft website.

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