Air Force Reserve pilot, grounded after medical diagnosis, returns to the sky: “Anyone can be resilient”

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (WCCO) – An Air Force Reserve pilot is proud to fly again after being disqualified from serving due to a medical condition.

Lt. Col. Josh Nelson overcame obstacles to return to the cockpit as a C130 instructor pilot.

“The great thing about what we do is that the people who are there want to be there, we all choose to serve,” Nelson said.

He has completed five deployments in his 21 years with the Air Force and is currently a full-time C130 instructor pilot in the Air Force Reserve.

“There is no greater honor and responsibility than, you know, receiving the keys to the C130,” Nelson said.

But that world changed at the end of 2017.

“Out of nowhere, with no family history or history, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which is inflammatory bowel disease,” Nelson said. “And this disease just, it beats you. I was sometimes afraid to eat because I was afraid of the pain it would cause.

He was banned from theft. Ulcerative colitis is a disqualifying condition in the air force. He started to take medicine. Two surgeries followed. His family was always by his side.

“An ileostomy is pretty much, I don’t have a colon anymore, so I have a device stuck to my abdomen and it’s pretty much my small intestine going through my abdominal wall, and so it’s where my waste goes, my production, ”Nelson said.

Once healthier and confident in how he could manage his condition, his attention turned to returning to work. For two years he worked with his surgeon at the University of Minnesota Medical Center at M Health Fairview, Dr. Wolfgang Gaertner.

“There were a lot of steps we had to go through. It took me a while to figure out like aeronautics, and just like pressure differences for example, to figure out how his body would react to, you know, those physical demands, ”Gaertner said.

Nelson says he had to try, and they gave it their all.

“The idea was to send the best package forward, so when that package landed on that desk, it would be difficult for them to speak out against me, mentally, physically,” Nelson said.

At the end of 2019, the pilot received a waiver to fly again, teaching him that if you don’t try, you can’t be successful.

“Anyone can be resilient. Anyone can bounce back if you give them that opportunity, and that second chance, which I think I really had, was a second chance and an opportunity to be able to come back, ”said Nelson.

He believes he could be the first pilot in the country to return to flight after an ileostomy.

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