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  • Shirley Phillips, DPT, Non-Profit Mentor

Aviation Needs Caregivers

One part of Hera Aviation Group’s mission is about changing the industry of aviation in a positive way for caregivers. If you are not a caregiver now, and are not planning on having children, you may think that you will not benefit from this mission. Part of the reason for this is because caregiving is largely unseen, and many people are unaware of the caregiving role played by their friends and colleagues. You can become a caregiver in many unexpected ways, and you can also find yourself needing a caregiver for yourself without warning.

I became a lifelong caregiver when Ashley, my youngest daughter, was born with a genetic condition so rare it is still considered “incompatible with life.” Yet today, Ashley is twenty-nine and she hasn’t just survived–she has thrived. She rides horses and she competes in jazz dance recitals with her many friends with intellectual disabilities. When she gets a new dress, she twirls while modeling it for strangers, as if she is on Next Top Model.

At age four, she made the front page of our local newspaper, gritting her teeth as she pulled her walker toward the finish line in her first Special Olympics race. These things are visible, and they often look like they happen without effort. They don’t. They are the product of many sleepless nights spent in a twin hospital bed with Ashley, an oxygen tent zippered over the top of us, so that she could enough oxygen to stop turning blue.

Just as unexpectedly I found myself needing a caregiver when I required four surgeries in five years. My oldest daughter, Christina, was only nineteen and in her first year of college when she suddenly had to take care of both her sister and me. She washed my hair in the intensive care unit and then drove nearly two hours to help bathe, feed, and console her sister, who didn’t understand where her mother had gone and took it out on her.

Shirley's daughters Christina and Ashley

To many people, Christina is an accomplished writer and producer of a popular podcast on public radio. Yet she has also been a caregiver, driving back and forth from New Hampshire to Boston every day with her brand new driver’s license to visit me during a weeklong hospital stay. While her peers were driving to the mall, she was driving me to the emergency room in the middle of the night.

Caregivers like Christina are everywhere, and some of them want to be able to fly airplanes. Christina and others like her deserve to work at their passion too. For Christina that passion takes place in a soundproof booth with a microphone, not on the flight deck of an airplane. I would like to think if she wanted to fly for a living that she could. Caregivers like her deserve that chance. Just as importantly, professions like aviation will lose out on valuable employees if they are unwilling to consider how to make flying airplanes a viable option for those who do the unseen work of caregiving.

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