AMPUTEE RETURNS TO FLYING

By Staff Sgt. April Lapetoda, 89th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Andrews AFB, MD - 7/7/2004 (AFPN) — An Air Force pilot whose leg was amputated above the knee will soon fly again.

On June 18, Air Force surgeon general George Taylor medically cleared Lt. Col. Andrew Lourake, Commander’s Action Group chief, to return to flight status.

This came after a battery of medical and mobility tests in San Antonio and hours of testing in a flight simulator in Wilmington, Del. The only thing standing between Lourake and a pilot seat now is the wait for a formal training slot to open so he can requalify.

“This will set a great precedence for the Air Force,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Gray, 89th Airlift Wing commander. “It shows how well the Air Force takes care of its own and how far technology has come to enable this to happen. I am 100-percent confident that Colonel Lourake will be as great of a pilot as he was before his injury and will strengthen our crew force.”

While a lost limb once resulted in a discharge from the service, breakthroughs in high-tech prosthetics are allowing military members to fight their way back to active duty.

Colonel Lourake’s tenure as a pilot ended Oct. 31, 1998, because of a motocross bike accident. He was thrown approximately 15 feet into the air and fractured his left leg when he landed. While hospitalized the leg became infected, requiring multiple surgeries over a period of more than three years leading to eventual amputation.

While researching prosthetics, Lourake discovered the C-Leg, a computerized artificial limb that can analyze movement at the rate of 50 messages per second and can adjust to changes in terrain. The C-Leg made the decision to have his leg amputated a lot easier, Lourake said. “Simply knowing the technology was out there that could enable me to transition back to the cockpit helped make that decision.”

In 2002, he became the first U.S. service member to be fitted with a C-Leg. After the surgery, he underwent more than 500 hours of physical therapy. Now medically cleared to return to the flight deck, he said it feels as though “a long road is coming to an end.”

After becoming an amputee, Lourake began trips to nearby Walter Reed Army Medical Center two and three times per week to visit with and encourage war wounded personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have lost limbs. “I feel as though I have been thrust into being a role model for other people with disabilities,” he said. “I am able to show them they can achieve what they want, if they put their mind to it.”

Prior to his accident, Lourake served as a special-air missions pilot for the 99th Airlift Squadron, logging more than 1,000 hours transporting U.S. leaders, foreign dignitaries, and various heads of state. After he completes formal training, he will return to that role.

“I’ve had a huge amount of support from my commanders, squadron members and doctors,” Lourake said. “I didn’t get to this point without the team effort. To me, this whole experience solidifies the fact that the Air Force is one big family.”