Triple Amputee Overcomes Disease to Pilot Plane Once Again

By: Stephanie Morrissey Email
By: Stephanie Morrissey Email

It started just like any other night. Brian Thomas, an airplane mechanic and pilot, was working the night shift at Duncan Aviation when he started to feel sick.

"It just felt like the flu. I went home on a night shift and I felt terrible," Thomas said.

Just hours later, he was rushed to the hospital, his arms and legs changing colors.

"I had already lost so much tissue. By the time I woke up, my hands were black as tires and I couldn't move my left or right hand," Thomas said.

Brian suffers from a blood disease similar to hemophilia so doctors had removed his spleen. That left him unable to fight off the virus invading his body.

After 10 days in a coma, he got some devastating news.

"The surgeon comes in and says I've got a lot of dead tissue and they need to amputate. He said I needed to be prepared for no hands or legs. My first reaction was 'I want to die in surgery so I don't have to live that way,'" Thomas said.

But Brian fought to live, keeping his sights set on reaching the skies once again, despite only having one limb.

"I figured I have to do something, life isn't over it's just going to be different," Thomas said.

Two years later, after months of rehab, Brian sat in the cockpit of his Cessna 177 for the first time since his surgery.

"I flew for the first time again here in Lincoln on a crystal clear night, it was so beautiful. It was satisfying that I'd gotten there," Thomas said.

For Brian, flying is just like riding a bike, you never forget how to do it, but that doesn't mean it was easy.

"The biggest challenge was communicating in the plane. I went deaf in my right ear and lost 50 percent in the left ear. I'd been away for so long that all the phrases were hard to understand," Thomas said.

Today, Brian is still at Duncan Aviation, surrounded by the machines he loves. He doesn't work on planes as much anymore but that doesn't stop his dreams from taking flight.

"Life has this incredibly amazing ability to surprise anyone. Different doesn't mean bad it just means different," Thomas said.

Overcoming adversity and proving the sky really is the limit.


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