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I had an aneurysm while flying a plane, and my passenger had to make an emergency landing. Now, I'm back in the skies.

Man about to board small plane
Pilot Ken Allen suffered an aneurysm while flying his plane.Courtesy of Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center
  • Ken Allen, 65, had an aneurysm during a flight from the Bahamas to Florida.

  • His passenger, who had no flying experience, landed the plane and Ken was rushed to the hospital.

  • Even in the intensive care unit, Ken knew he wanted to get back in the skies.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Ken Allen. It has been edited for length and clarity.

May 10, 2022, was a gorgeous, blue-sky day. As a pilot, I had a routine schedule: fly a small group to the Bahamas, then return to Florida with another passenger. Since it was such a nice day, I invited my friend Russ to join me on the run. Russ enjoyed flying with me. I figured we'd stop for lunch and be home by mid-afternoon.

Around 11 a.m. I left the Bahamas with Russ and the passenger, Darren. The flight was uneventful until I felt a sharp pain on the left side of my head. The three of us were chatting on the intercom, and I said, "I don't feel well." Immediately Russ and Darren asked what that meant, and I said my head was killing me.

The next thing I remember was Russ and Darren tapping me on the shoulder as I slipped in and out of consciousness. Unbeknownst to me, as I was unconscious, Darren took the controls and successfully landed the airplane, making national news.

I didn't understand how I was alive or speaking

The first miracle of the day had happened, but my life was still on the line. I came to as an ambulance crew was pulling me out of the plane. I was hanging on, trying to stop them, because I had no idea that we'd already landed safely.

The ambulance rushed me to a nearby hospital, where I had a CT scan. The emergency room doctor told me the good news was that I hadn't had a stroke like they'd thought. The bad news was that my condition was much worse: I'd had an aneurysm and ruptured my aorta, the largest artery in the body. I worked as a paramedic, so when she explained that, I couldn't understand how I was alive and talking.

The doctor emphasized the situation was critical. She FaceTimed my wife, Stanna. As we spoke, I hoped it wasn't for the last time.

In the ICU, I learned that my passenger had landed the plane

Doctors transferred me to Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. There, Dr. Nishant Patel explained that he was going to do everything he could to save my life during an emergency surgery. But in a voicemail for Stanna, he said I only had about a 50/50 chance of making it out of the operating room alive.

I was so happy to wake up in the ICU with Stanna by my side. I was really sore and couldn't speak or move very well, but I could hold Stanna's hand.

Pilot Ken Allen and his wife
Ken Allen and his wife Stanna.Courtesy of Ken Allen

Over the next few days, Stanna helped me understand what had happened. I was in disbelief, not only that I'd survived the aneurysm but that Darren had landed the Cessna 208. That's not a small airplane, and while it's not as complicated as some other planes, it's certainly not simple. I just couldn't understand what the heck had happened, even after talking to Darren soon after my surgery.

I knew I would pilot a plane again

Even when I was lying in bed in the ICU, I knew I wanted to fly again. I've been a pilot for more than 30 years, and I've been flying even longer. It's what I love to do. I was discharged from the hospital after six days and immediately started working on getting my medical clearance to be a pilot again.

That would take time, and I couldn't wait to get in the air. Three weeks after I flew with a colleague from the flight school where I teach. I just had to be back in the sky.

That's not to say recovery was easy. I felt a lot of guilt for putting Russ and Darren at risk, even knowing there was nothing I could have done differently. Of course, when I apologized to them, they said they didn't want to hear any more about that. We're all still in touch and bonded for life. Darren has flown with me since. Russ still hasn't, although he's been talking about it lately.

I focus on everything that went right that day

Last October, after a barrage of doctor appointments and tests, I received my medical clearance to fly. That was the biggest relief. I still fly the same plane I was in when I had the aneurysm.

When I think about my story, I focus on what went right. I frequently flew that route by myself. If the aneurysm happened on one of those days, I wouldn't be here. If it had happened on the way to the Bahamas, I'd likely be dead because the medical care just isn't the same there compared to Florida.

A lot of things went wrong that day, but more went right, allowing me to continue enjoying my life and to fly another day.

Read the original article on Business Insider