George and guest First Officer Austen McDonald discuss their passion for aviation and how Austen, being a type one diabetic, embraced the challenges and overcame obstacles in his pursuit to become a commercial pilot. A great story about why we should never give up on our dreams.
Hello, everyone. I'm George Canyon. Welcome to "Life as a Diabetic - The Highs and the Lows". This is Episode three. We are having so much fun, getting to do all these episodes and this episode actually is very exciting for me. We're going to get to talk to a friend of mine, young fella, by the name of Austen McDonald. I won't get into it yet because we have to get him on the line on Skype. But it's this episode is all about aviation, which is a real passion of mine. It's been a passion of mine since I was very, very young. And as I said in Episode one, I drove Mom and Dad crazy every time an airplane would be flying over. I would be like stop the car I gotta get out. I have to see this airplane fly over. I wanted to be an Air Force pilot so bad until until, of course, I was told I could never be in the Air Force and I could never fly airplanes. At the age of 14 I was diagnosed as Type one diabetic, as you all know, and it's been a very, very long, um, arduous fight, sometimes just trying to, I guess, bury those dreams deep down inside. But finally getting to be a pilot now for the last 11 /12 years and and getting to fly airplanes and be a part of making changes in Canada with Transport Canada. I never dreamt that could ever happen, but it has, and the guest we have today is a true inspiration to all Type One diabetics, young and old. And it's the one thing I always say - the Type one diabetic community is the most positively stubborn people I've ever met and what I mean by that is they are positively stubborn. They put their mind to something - You get it done. You see, when you're diagnosed as a type one, you're forced to kinda grow up overnight. It's like jumping into ice cold water, two feet first, no option. You don't get to dip your toe in, and that whole process of having to take on responsibility be determined and dedicated. It has to be adopted quickly when you're when you're first diagnosed and even adult onset. I've talked to 40 year olds who all of a sudden were diagnosed with Type one diabetes, and they said the same thing said, Wow, I thought I was a responsible adult, but when I got Type one diabetes, I learned discipline and I learned responsibility like I'd never seen before. And that's our guest on the podcast today is the perfect example of that, and getting to know him and his dad family quite well over the last few years has been a true honor to me. So without further ado because I will just go on and on and on, and we need to definitely be hearing from Austin. Let's let's get him on the line right now. Well, as promised on Episode three here, we've got my buddy Mr. Austen McDonald. Type one diabetic since he was 13 years old, lives in up in Edmonton, born and raised in St. Albert, Alberta and live right now on Skype. Austen, How you doing pal?
Good Morning, George I'm doing great - how about yourself?
I'm doing awesome. I don't let the cat out of the bag and say who you work for, do any of that stuff. So let's go. Let's go right back to the beginning for you, Which is not that not too long ago, the day you were diagnosed. Let's talk about right before you were diagnosed right before, because this is something that is so important for people that are not diabetic. To understand how we all have different symptoms and we all go through different things. So lead me into when you went to the hospital for your diagnosis. Prior to that, what were you experiencing?
Okay, well, I was a pretty normal kid growing up pretty athletic. I played rugby competitively at the age of 13 14 years old for Team Alberta and stuff like that. Um, that winter, I was training to, get better, hitting the gym a lot. And then all of a sudden, I got a weird infection on my finger at, uh, that wouldn't heal and went to the doctor. Had that last a few times and to no avail and we kind of just moved on from it and every once in a while would have to take a course of antibiotics. But then shortly after Christmas, I really started to lose a lot of weight. Basically lost close to 30 pounds in two or three weeks, drinking water all the time, going the bathroom night and day, Um, to the point where my mom who was a former psychiatric nurse and ah, dentist kind of noticed things weren't going too normally, she's seen this story before and she took me to the doctor, which at first didn't believe me that I had something wrong. He thought I was actually on drugs, which was quite interesting. We went and got blood work done that day. Um, went, uh, went home and kind of passed out for a while. Uh, went back to the Medi Center, because we hadn't heard anything a few hours later and again, the next doctor didn't believe me until they check the labs. And he told me to go straight to the Stollery Children's Hospital after he did, because I was in severe ketoacidosis. So, um, that's basically how it started. Spent three days at the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta with a bunch of great staff. They took great care of me, and I went through their two week outpatient program that taught me how to be a diabetic.
Three days, three days in the hospital and two weeks of outpatients. And I was admitted to the hospital February 1st. So just coming up on just past 10 years now.
Just passed 10 years. So you're 24 now?
Turning 24 tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow morning. Oh, man. Well, 10 years as a type one diabetic. And so you've You haven't seen the old archaic days and I saw them, but I wasn't diabetic then, it was my grandma that I got to see that. Um as far as your treatment goes, let's talk about how you treat yourself now without letting the cat out of the bag.
So I, uh, at first I was actually on MDI and then basically, that fit my rugby. Life after I was diagnosed I continued playing rugby competitively and an insulin pump didn't make sense. But once I stopped playing rugby, there was no other option in my mind. Besides an insulin pump, and so I'm on the Insulet Omnipod right now as well as the Dexcom G5. I'm switching over G6 soon I just need to get rid of the or use up the last of the G5 sensors.
Nice. Nice. While you're actually treating yourself the same way I treat myself. So there is, well and rightly so. A lot of type ones they're treating that way right now, and you just can't go wrong treating that way. So let's, uh let's move into a little more of the skinny of this podcast, which we're going to get into rather quickly here. But before we do, um, what does your dad do for a living?
My dad is a professional airline pilot with Air Canada. He is a Captain, on the Boeing 787.
Yeah, I knew. I just had to set it up. Ha. That's of course. Captain Ed McDonald, if you're ever flying on one of his flights. Good luck. I mean, enjoy yourself. I have to I have to rib him. You have to give him a hard time.
For all those that fly out of Calgary beware.
Hopefully, he's not listening. I'll never get on one of those flights again. So you kind of grew up with aviation then?
Yeah. So basically when I was born my dad was a pilot with Canadian Airlines. And before that, he was in the Air Force and flying had been basically are our life. I grew up with a father as an airline pilot, which presented its own unique benefits and challenges. Um, but basically, I was bitten with the flying, bug really early on in my life. And I always thought airplanes were cool and interested by mechanical things. And, uh, yeah, I had my first fan flight with my dad in the back seat of a small like a Piper warrior. Something in Cold Lake. And I never looked back. Yeah.
So as far as flying goes now, you're diagnosed at 13, so there's no way you're even looking at a pilot's license at the age of 13. So what's, I mean, And you, obviously you were thinking a career in aviation. What? What was your first step?
So of ah, before I was diagnosed. Just the plan for me was to essentially follow a similar footsteps my dad did. Get an engineering degree, go into the Air Force and then eventually make my way to be, Ah, the airline pilots. Uh, career. Unfortunately, the first thing they tell you when you're diagnosed type one diabetic is you could be anything you want except being in the military and flying professionally. That was a bit of a hit, and I internalized it in my own little way, I decided to focus on rugby and then eventually focused on getting my engineering degree at the University of Alberta. Um, but the funny thing is, ah, you can never really shy away from from the bug once you have it. When I was in grade 12 I got my recreational pilot's license, which basically allowed me to fly a two person bug smasher around in good weather, which is a fun activity. It is. That's actually the purest, most joyful, uh, flying I've ever done. But I still wanted more. Um, it wasn't really until my dad flew with someone by the name of Stephen Steele that I realized that potentially being a professional airline pilot was ah was ah possibility because Stephen himself was a airline pilot, but then was diagnosed with type one diabetes later in his career. Ah, and he had lost his license initially, but fought back to, ah, to be one of the few that regained his license after after diagnosis. So, after hearing that it kind of rejuvenated my, uh, my passion for wanting to become a pilot and ah, uh, basically, through the work we did together, we were able to convince transport. I don't know how much more you want
We ah, we won't get too far into it because we're going to save that for another episode or two. That may take two episodes, but we're definitely gonna have you back on to um, to talk about that whole process. But hopefully with your dad. Because your dad was an integral, part of all that as well. And maybe even get Stephen there as well because he he's retired now anyway. So what's he really doing?
Hanging out at home.
So, So you get your Rec Pilot's license. And of course, now you have to get your private pilot's license at some point.
And so take me from where did you, where did you go from there? Okay, so you have your Rec, and now you're going to go to what school?
So I I did my Rec at the Edmonton Flying Club and kind of that the interesting turn of fate was I wanted to get up, become a better pilot as a Rec pilot. So I went to the Namao Flying Club in Edmonton out of Villeneuve, and I learned how to fly at their tail wheels citabria and during that time is kind of when we got in contact with you as well as ah, I found out about Stephen Steele and we I got on the insulin pump, at that time. I was able to get my Category Three medical, which allowed me to become a private pilot ah and at that time at Namao, I got my private pilot's license done on the citabria and then went across the street to Centennial Flight Center to do my multi engine instrument rating on a Piper Seneca 3. Yeah. Yeah,
That's ah, and then from there, of course, without giving too much away once we had convinced gently, sometimes not so gentle, convinced transport to allow a type one diabetic, of course, to become a commercial pilot first in the world. Um, that was you.
That that was. It's kind of ah, weird to think back on. But yeah, the first ah, commercial pilot with pre-existing diabetes in, uh Canada and likely the world as well. So that's, uh,
I'm pretty sure it's the world, because from what I heard in Canada was the first. Yeah, I know. I heard a story the other day that, of course, the U. S. have or are following suit. I believe Australia's following suit as well, but don't hold me to any of this is hearsay. But I did read a few things that had said that. But so you're now a commercial airline pilot without a job. And where do you go? Who do you apply to? I'm gonna guess probably, your dad is with Air Canada - so that would make sense.
Yeah. Family ties run deep with that with Air Canada The funny thing is, everything worked, timing wise worked out great. I was when I got my private, my multi engine rating. I was in second year University of Alberta. I was doing a co-op program, so I was supposed to have a work term. Um, but I kind of doubled down on wanting to become a commercial airline pilot and during my work term I went to Seneca flight, uh, College in Peterborough, Ontario, for the 8 month program. And with that, they essentially trained me how to be a multi ah, multi crew pilot to the best of my abilities. Uh and with that, it presented a great opportunity to interview with Jazz Aviation who operates on behalf of Air Canada Express. And so after I finished that program, however, I still at that time didn't have my Cat One Medical. I came back to Edmonton, finished off my engineering degree and in the last throws of the semester, I got my medical in my commercial pilot's license and did all the requisite exams in order to apply to Jazz and got an interview. And, ah, a few months later, I was hired at Jazz Aviation. Uh, in October or uh in August of 2019.
First Officer Austin McDonald.
First Officer. Yeah, I drew the Dash 8 Q 400 which is it is an awesome airplane. It's a sports car in my opinion. Uh and I've been flying the flying the lines since about November.
Now your first flight, which I got to be on, which was hilarious because I've never done that in my life. As far as getting on an airplane to fly to Saskatoon and get off and get back on and fly back to Calgary.
5:30 in the morning.
Yes, 5:30 in the morning. Now on that flight. I believe you said that because that was your first line flight. You weren't. You had to wait two landings or to take offs or something. I don't know.
Yeah, it had to be three landings and takeoffs. I had to observe as pilot monitoring. So it's not like I'm sitting there with my hands on my legs and a little doing a lot of the typing, doing a lot of the work - talking to air traffic control. But the following day I got to do my first landing in Kamloops, B. C. And the funny thing was, actually the, uh it ended up that there was a JDRF researcher who had saw your Facebook videos the day before. That was my flight that that morning. So actually, right after my first landing, I ran into the terminal there and got a picture with her. Awesome.
I think I've ever hearing that story. Actually,
It's a small world.
Take us take us through that because I've never I mean, I've got sim time on a Q4 and as a private pilot, I've flown, been blessed to fly a lot of aircraft. But when it comes to big heavy haulers, no, I have not. So you know you're landing. You're landing on 172 which everybody knows is usually the aircraft to start learning on. When you're getting your pilot's license. We know what it's like to land that even a twin, even a Seneca. We know what it's like to land, but what's it like the land a Q 400?
It's ah, it's an interesting machine because it's essentially the same wing and design as that classic Dash 8. But it weighs a lot more, so it's a lot heavier on the controls. You have to be a lot more on the power. You have to be in front of the airplane, which is makes it a bit of a challenge. It's quite fun to fly, but it's ah, it's a lot heavier and you're going from excuse me, a 172 to ah, uh Q 400 is a pretty big jump. It sits a lot higher on the ground, and, uh, when you're kind of coming 50 feet, 40 feet, 30 feet over the runway, you're kind of going okay. I should probably start pulling back on the stick now because the ground is starting to get a little big.
When the ants get bigger, that means it's time to flare. So now that we could talk airplanes all day, But, um, as life as a diabetic, which is what the podcast is the highs and lows. Let's talk about your diabetes control when you're in the cockpit. What, What do you have, what are the stipulations? What do you have to be doing when it comes that? Now you are on a CGM and an insulin pump, making the making the world a bit easier for you?
Yeah. So the just the underline here, the CGM is absolutely only one of the only reasons why I can say I have the control I have. It gives me the background knowledge and what my body is doing at all times. However, Transport Canada protocol says I have to still use traditional finger pokes. So essentially before a flight, usually about 15 minutes before takeoff, I'll poke my finger; draw blood and have to be between a certain range between 6 and 16 is the range, and I like to keep my blood sugar between about ah, 7.5 to 12 during flying, um then every hour in cruise. Same thing. Poke has to between a certain range. If I drop below or above that range, I'm allowed to correct a little bit either with sugar, or a little bit of insulin and then 30 minutes before landing. So usually about top of decend, you're just prior to top of decend until I'll poke my finger once more. And so, depending on the day, I could go from doing four tests in a day to up to 12 and have done 14 tests in a period of eight hours. So it ah, it can be tough on the fingers, but, uh, in order you will be in the range I need to be to fly and not cause any delay saying I need snack. The CGM is by far the the one tool they use the most in terms of making it in that range is keeping it there.
It's amazing. I mean with an iWatch onto you can literally turn your wrist and see your sugar and go back to your business.
It's so quick I'm sure transport Canada will will eventually, you know, catch on with that. I understand where their mindset is with the traditional. You know, poke and check, but the Dexcom CGM is so bloody accurate. It scares me how accurate it is. And I've put it through its I put the G6 through its tests. You know, taking my my sugar from my finger and then checking it against what my phone is telling me. Which, of course, the watch is telling me as well. And it is unbelievable for me. Thank God for technology, or you wouldn't be sitting in the cockpit.
Exactly. And that's the real you know I can understand. And when they made the rules in the eighties and the even before then obviously, you know, diabetics not being able to fly with you to pee on a stick wait a couple hours and that was your blood sugar even before that, you know, that's hard to control and regulate. But nowadays, with the technology we have with instantaneous glucose measurement, there's there's no reason why diabetics can't can't fly
Well, and the other thing too a lot of people don't realize this. Parents of a type one diabetic kids will of course, agree 100%. The level of discipline that you all of a sudden have to have and are thrust into is incredible, and every type one diabetic kid I've met young and old alike. The level of discipline scares me like they're just so regimented. And even if you're not in tight control, this level of regiment just exists. And so I would be. I would always and will always be happy to know there's a type one diabetic in the cockpit of anything I'm flying in because I know that that discipline level is there and and they're just gonna be an amazing pilot.
Yeah, yeah, we as pilots, we follow the same sort of strict procedures and standard operating procedures and calls the diabetics do. It's It's kind of interesting if the it fits like a glove, a hand in a glove kind of thing.
Next thing - military, that's what we do is we convince the military because I said this and I'll continue to say it. You get a platoon of type one diabetics in the military. There's nothing they're not gonna accomplish. Fearless, they'll figure out how to fly to the space without a space shuttle. It's kind of it's amazing to watch. Well, Austen this has been fantastic, and you are a true inspiration, too. All type one diabetics and especially those type one diabetic kids out there. If you happen to be one of those kids listening, this is living proof right here what we would call back in the old days, proof in the pudding that if you take control of your diabetes, you can live your dreams, like First Officer Austen McDonald, who I would venture a guess will soon be Captain Austen McDonald.
I can't give you a timeline on that, but it might be soon.
It might be soon. Well, listen, buddy, um, friendly skies. I don't know. I don't want to go into all the acronyms of keeping the wheels the rubber side down and all that stuff. But God bless you for fighting the fight and getting out there and flying for Jazz. And hopefully, I'll be on one of your flights coming up soon. That would be a lot of fun again. And maybe we can get into the cockpit of one of those aircraft your dad have there. Not Air Canada's aircraft but one of the smaller ones cause those are the ones that I can handle. I'm not commercial pilot so.
We'll make it happen, George.
We will pal all the best. Take care of yourself. We'll talk to you soon.
Talk to you later, George. Thanks.
Thanks Buddy. Bye. Well, that was that was our buddy Austen. McDonald Type one diabetic since he was 13 years old. And Happy Birthday, Austen. He just turned 24. Wow. What a story. Unbelievable. And, um, such an example for for young type type one diabetics. Control your disease, control your diabetes, take control of it and live your dreams. Not just like me, but like First Officer Austen McDonald with Air Canada Jazz. I can't help but smile when I say that because it's something I never thought I'd ever get to say about another fellow type one diabetic. And we're gonna get into it more detail with what happened with Transport Canada that story. We're gonna have Austen's dad, Ed MacDonald, on who was a huge, huge part of getting Transport Canada to allow Type one diabetics to to ah, become commercial airline pilots and hold the Category One R Medical. We're also gonna hopefully talk to retired officer Captain Steve Steele because Steve, the stuff he accomplished before I even could've dreamt of being a part of all this really, truly was industry leading and it really paved paved the road for all of us type one diabetics. So that's gonna be coming up on a future episode as well. Thanks so much for tuning in on being a part of "Life as a Diabetic - The highs and the lows". I'm George Canyon, your host. And until next time, God bless and take care of your diabetes will see you all soon.