Reposted from The Frederick News-Post
Diabetic pilot flies high for his cause
Written by Laura Dukes
When a lifelong dream could have come to a halt, Monrovia resident Jason Harmon would not let it happen.
Harmon, now 41, wanted to be a pilot ever since he was a young child. He said he specifically hoped to be a military pilot. At age 16 he started taking lessons at Frederick Municipal Airport and he got his private pilot’s license at 17.
It was shortly after he graduated high school that the symptoms started — constant thirst, blurry vision and frequent urination. All of these led to the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, which at the time meant no piloting a plane under any circumstance.
“I was pretty devastated. … You’re told, ‘You’re not a pilot anymore and you never will be,’” Harmon said.
When it came to his “plan B” career, Harmon turned to another interest: computer programming.
At young age, Harmon was able to start working for the Discovery Channel as a network engineer, where he said he stayed “until the beginning of the dot-com era.”
Harmon then moved on to the company USWeb prior to starting his own healthcare software company, Get Real Health, in 2001.
He said the company works on software to help patients manage chronic conditions including his own.
During all this time, Harmon said the thrill of flying left neither his heart nor his mind.
“I always had a longing to fly again and a hope that someday I’d be able to. It’s a bug that once you get it in your system, it’s hard to get out,” he said.
In the late ’90s, Harmon said he read an article that said pilots with well-controlled diabetes could receive a third class medical certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA.
This would allow these diabetic pilots to be able to fly recreationally or as a flight instructor, but not as a commercial pilot.
“I was surprised and very happy,” said Harmon, who received his certification in 1999.
From there, Harmon said he flew as much as possible and even received instrument ratings that allowed him to fly in inclement weather and in planes with multiple engines. Though he owned a plane at one time, Harmon said he now rents from the Frederick Flight Center.
Under his certification, Harmon said he has to follow specific procedures under the FAA. These procedures involve testing his own blood sugar no more than 30 minutes prior to take off. The results cannot be below 100 or above 300.
Once he takes off, Harmon said he has to re-test every hour while in flight and if his levels drop below 100, he has to take glucose and re-test again in 30 minutes.
“Safety is maintained because we have to test it well before it would get to a dangerous range,” Harmon said.
He said the actual test takes 10 to 15 seconds and takes place while the plane is at a stable cruise.
Harmon said compared to other piloting factors, “Diabetes really is the easiest thing to manage.”
With the success of his career in the software world, Harmon said being a career commercial pilot is no longer a personal goal. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t hope for it for those in similar positions of having well-managed Type 1 diabetes.
“I’d like to see that opportunity for those who have shown that they can [fly] safely,” said Harmon, who said he controls his disease through frequent blood sugar testing; managing his diet; getting exercise; and managing his insulin dosage.
To raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, or JDRF, and to give hope to other diabetic pilots, Harmon recently participated in the Diabetes Formation Flight for the second year in a row.
The flight involved four pilots — all with well-controlled diabetes — flying in a formation out of Omaha, Neb., to Madison, Wis.
Harmon said they met in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on July 25 and did practice flights over that weekend. The formation flight took place on July 29 and Harmon flew home the next day.
“We were trying to raise awareness of what pilots with well-controlled diabetes could do,” he said.
For the formation flight, Harmon said he had to stay only two wing-spans from the plane he was following. He said they established a speed record of about 115 nautical miles per hour — the equivalent of 131 to 132 land miles per hour.
He said donations for JDRF are still being accepted at DFFUSA.org.
Harmon said he was joined in a Diamond DA-40XLS by co-pilot Taylor Verett of New Jersey, who Harmon said was recently Type 1 diagnosed and awaiting his certification.
Harmon said he was hoping to show young pilots like Verett that “diabetes does not need to limit the scope of your dreams and ambitions.”
He said he expects to see either a cure for Type 1 diabetes or for the FAA to recognize the impeccable safety records of diabetic pilots following FAA medical certificate guidelines.
Harmon said there were about 500 pilots with this certification and many of them would be able to maintain a career as a commercial pilot.
“You can very effectively manage the condition,” he said.
Read the full article on The Frederick News-Post