A diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes has its challenges, especially when it comes to career goals. For example, living with Type 1 Diabetes means facing the reality that due to the nature of the chronic illness, dreams of becoming a pilot, a firefighter, an astronaut or a commercial truck driver are going to be with limitations. The good news is, in recent years the world’s perspective on what Type 1s can do as career is changing for the better.

Derrick Affleck, who lives with Type 1 Diabetes, is a great testament to this shift in perspective. Derrick is a commercial pilot who holds a specific pilot’s license called an “Airline Transport License” for helicopters. Derrick completed his initial flight training in 2008, but in 2011 he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. This was after returning from a successful helicopter contract in Afghanistan.

Derrick testing his BG mid flight.

Currently, for people living with Type 1 Diabetes, it is near impossible to become  a commercial pilot. Transport Canada does not allow any Type 1s to fly alone, which resulted in Derrick temporarily losing his license. Derrick explains, right now “[i]n the helicopter world, your initial licence is comprised of 65 hours of dual instructional time and 35 solo hours. Sadly, unless you are an existing pilot when you get diagnosed with T1D, attaining a commercial pilot licence is not an option.”

Derrick was fortunate in having completed his initial license prior to diagnosis. He, however, admits that there were several challenges yet to overcome after his diagnosis. Derrick would not be allowed to fly as a single pilot and complete solo operations as he had been doing in the past. This meant Derrick had to demonstrate to Transport Canada that he has been and is in consistent control of his blood glucose. This process took six months and resulted in an approval to fly with the restriction that he would be only be able to fly “with or as a co-pilot”. The challenges were not over as Derrick needed additional schooling to be qualified on dual pilot operations. The additional schooling was expensive and due to losing his license, he was unemployed thus making funding difficult.

Despite these challenges, Derrick completed the schooling and is now back in the friendly skies, flying seven days and seven nights per 28 days. Derrick’s diabetes management for each 12 hour (minimum) shift requires that he test his blood glucose within 30 minutes before flight and every hour during. This is to keep his blood sugar in the specified Transport Canada range. Should Derrick’s blood glucose go out of range, he must make a quick correction using insulin or sugar as required. Transport Canada continues to review and evaluate their requirements as new advancements in Type 1 Diabetes come available.

Derrick’s best advice to other type ones who are aspiring to be pilots is to voice themselves to Transport Canada. Derrick says, “the more voices Transport Canada hear from controlled Type 1 Diabetics aspiring to be pilots, the more it’s on their radar.

Derrick (centre), alongside the rest of the flight/emergency response team.

 

In general, the outright blanket ban on careers, such as being a pilot, are now being reduced to restrictions. This doesn’t remove all challenges or frustrations. However, these careers are now a possibility for Type 1s provided they meet the diabetes management requirements, as demonstrated by Derrick. For all you Type 1s, the sky may not be the limit.

2 Comments
  1. Alex Hollett 3 months ago

    Wow this is touching and close to home, I m a licensed Aircraft Maintenance engineer working around Pearson Airport who was able to obtain my commercial helicopter licence before being diagnosed with Type one in 2013. ? Unfortunately at that time i couldn’t maintain my medical. If you have any advise to move forward with my dream to fly and fix that would be great. I initially had difficulties finding a dual pilot job with only 100 hrs fresh out of flight school. Any guidance would be great.

    Very inspired,

    Alex

    • Chris Jarvis 3 months ago

      Hi Alex!
      I’ve been in the same shoes – was kicked off my rowing team in University and unsure if I should pursue it any further. Passion and support is so valuable and I remember my incredible team mates who encouraged me and the chance to meet a JR National team rower living with type 1 who cemented for me the courage I should have in the face of these challenges.

      Heather and her parents were excellent supports for me, helped me overcome a lack of medical supplies and funding, earn a scholarship and we both ended up competing in Athens Greece! She’s now an Naturopathic doctor and it doesn’t surprise me at all as she was a huge factor in my success winning gold for Canada at the PanAm Games and World Cups.

      I’ll reach out to get you connected personally,
      Chris Jarvis

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