How I Unexpectedly Lost My Pilot’s Medical Certificate Due to Injury (A Blog Series! Part 1)

,

In October 2015, Rick Koubsky, BizJetJobs Founder and a full-time Corporate Pilot, was hit by a car while out road biking for exercise. Like many of us, Rick was trying to squeeze in a workout between life’s other obligations. “I was really trying to hustle home for a football party we were hosting that afternoon,” he told us.

As a pilot, one of your top priorities is staying in good physical shape. For most pilots, losing our medical can mean losing our job. Ironically, it was this 90 minute workout that ended up costing Rick his pilot’s medical certificate.

Rick wanted to share his story on the BizJetJobs blog in an effort to help other pilots. We’ll be sharing it in three parts:

Why We’re Sharing Rick’s Story: It’s Personal

At BizJetJobs, Rick’s experience taught us firsthand that all pilots should make a plan to handle stressful situations when we’re well, before we get stressed. Injury, illness and other traumatic events can cloud your judgment. Stress causes cortisol levels to spike, raises your heart rate and raises adrenaline levels, all of which impair your ability to think. In Rick’s case, a head injury further impacted his ability to make decisions. We’re all very thankful that he has an excellent support system in his wife, his family, his aviation industry friends and his medical team. Rick trusts that by sharing his personal experience, he will help you decide what to do ahead of time, and increase your odds of handling a serious injury well.

“You’re Dead, Son.”

The accident happened after a steep one mile climb. Rick was on the back side of a hill getting ready to enjoy a long downhill run as he noticed a car at an upcoming intersection. The intersection was a two-way stop giving way to him.

As he approached the intersection, the car started to proceed into the intersection and then suddenly stopped as if the driver saw him and was giving way. Rick believed the driver saw him, so he again picked up the pace to proceed through the intersection. As he was 25-35 feet from the intersection with speed in excess of 25 miles per hour, the car suddenly tried to cross the intersection.

“My first reaction was to hit the back brake hard, which resulted in a fish tail that threw me for a curve, so I had to get that under control. Once I regained control of the bike I noticed impact was for sure, and that I was going to hit the passenger front door or window, which would have resulted in face or neck to top of the car’s door.”

“All I could do was try to control where I struck the car, so I made a hard right turn in an attempt to hit the front right quarter panel and dive across the hood of the car. Unknown to me, at impact the front wheel collapsed and my knee hit the car, causing my feet to fly over my head. Impact with the windshield threw me 50 feet from the car. I landed on the back of my head and left shoulder blade on the pavement with zero pain. When I opened my eyes, a witness to the accident was standing over me and I remember asking, ‘Are you my guardian angel?’ ”

“No hon, I’m a physician’s assistant. Don’t move. You may have broken your neck.”

A wave of panic washed over Rick, who immediately got up and tried to walk it off and prove he was fine. This was when he remembers noticing that emergency responders (police, fire and ambulance) had arrived on the scene. Surveying the accident, the responding officer told our pilot:

“You’re dead, son. There’s no way you should be alive.”

Resolved not to die or be paralyzed that day, bloodied and hurting, Rick did his best to muscle through the pain. He called his wife, who got to the scene of the accident quickly and drove Rick to the hospital.

The Aftermath: Symptoms & Injury

At the Emergency Room, the doctors seemed baffled that Rick didn’t break his neck. The team was focused on checking for life threatening conditions; they didn’t screen him for a concussion or even mention it. Rick was discharged from the hospital and sent home. Needless to say, the football party had been cancelled. Rick’s concussion symptoms developed over the next few days and included:

  • constant headache
  • sleep problems (1-2 hours/night for months)
  • overly emotional
  • feeling in a “fog”
  • double vision in left eye
  • confusion
  • bloody nose for days with blood in right ear
  • speech issues (aphasia)
He went to the doctor and she immediately diagnosed him with a concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury.

 

The Repercussions: Self-Grounding

The first part of FAR 61.53 says if a pilot “… knows or has reason to know of any medical condition that would make the person unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation,” it’s up to the pilot to make the determination that a medical condition requires “self-grounding.” That’s why once diagnosed, Rick knew that he should not fly, and to contact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). When he did so, he was told to “Stand Down,” or stop flying until they got back to him. He did not consult with his employer until after he had contacted the FAA.

Originally the FAA gave Rick two months to get better and have a comprehensive review to see if he could keep his medical. After two months of eye and speech therapy, Rick was sent to a neurologist for testing. Even though Rick passed all neurologist’s tests, he was sent for a neuro-cognitive exam. This exam showed his short term memory wasn’t where it should be. When Rick let the FAA know, they followed up with a letter. They were pulling his medical until he was healed.

In hindsight, Rick admits he took the test too soon. Taking the test when he was’t ready was one of his biggest mistakes in this situation. “If had to do over, I would have consulted with the Aviation Medicine Advisory Service (AMAS) right away to help navigate the process.”

Having issues with your Airman’s Medical Certificate? Contact us by phone or email: (402) 253-7809 (9:00 AM-5:00 PM Monday-Friday EST) or [email protected]