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Pilot’s dreams are ‘within his grasp’

After losing his hands in a crash that nearly took his life, former Marine, airline captain and sport aerobatic pilot Mike Penketh regained his FAA certification, performs in air shows and continues to teach children acceptance for people with disabilities. Courtesy photo

What would you do if you found yourself awakening from a deep slumber to discover that your hands were missing? How would you eat, or drink? How would you brush your teeth?

How would you change your clothes? How would you turn a door knob? How would you answer the phone? How would you sign a check, or a form?

The frustrations are endless, but survival is a human instinct, so you would have to figure out how to perform essential functions, or have someone do them for you. The innate instinct for survival can get you by, but the human spirit and a strong sense of determination can help you overcome obstacles at a much faster pace.

In “Within My Grasp: A Double Amputee’s True Story,” American Airlines Capt. Mike Penketh describes his accident — in which he lost both hands — and recovery. The book was written in collaboration with Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March of Davis.

Penketh maintained a perfect safety record while flying passengers, but on his own time he got his adrenaline rushes by mastering aerobatics and flying in competitions. He raced his home-built Pitts S-1 biplane in the Reno Air Races. In his quest for speed, he miscalculated only once — and he paid dearly.

“I didn’t know where I was, and I didn’t know the guy who was leaning over me. I had been unconscious, and I was flat on my back, but as I began awakening in a groggy, dull fog, I sensed that I was in some kind of aircraft,” he writes in the opening chapter of his book.

“Over the noise, the pilot spoke. He was talking about a patient with severe limb damage and a possible head injury. The pilot was contacting the radio dispatch room at the University of Utah Hospital Trauma Services Unit in Salt Lake City.

“I did not comprehend that I was the patient. Everything revolved in slow motion around me. I felt cold, numb. And then I blacked out again.”

Trauma surgeons subsequently were forced to amputate Penketh’s hands following the horrific accident that nearly killed him. Although the course of his life was unalterably changed, he was determined against all odds to fly airplanes again.

Within a remarkably short time of losing his hands, Penketh became determined to resume flying airplanes. He was fitted for and tried numerous hook devices and prosthetic arms before his relentless pursuit led him to a technologically advanced solution with which he was able to perform some critical hand functions.

He culminated two years of preparations when he successfully demonstrated for doubting FAA examiners his ability to fly an aircraft using electronic prosthetic hands. The FAA reinstated his pilot’s license and, while he never flew Boeing 737s again, he went on to perform intricate maneuvers in aerobatics shows to prove to himself and the naysayers that he could do it.

An inspiration to schoolchildren, Penketh travels weekly throughout the school year to Northern California grade schools as part of the nonprofit Touch of Understanding program. His mission: to teach young children, teachers and parents to respect and have empathy for all individuals. The program encourages its participants to focus on their own strengths rather than on weaknesses and to realize that everyone faces adversity and frustrations that they may struggle to overcome.

“Within My Grasp: A Double Amputee’s True Story” is an autobiography about the challenges of coping with a disability, and learning how to focus on what you can do, rather than what you cannot do.

The book, published by EditPros LLC, is available in print and digital (e-book) through bookstores and online sellers. For more information, visit www.editpros.com.

This is the fourth biographical book that Childs and March have co-written. Their previously published books are “Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? — Volume 2″ (2012, EditPros LLC); “Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? — Volume 1″ (2011, EditPros LLC); and “Echoes of the Sixties” (1999 print edition, Billboard Books; 2012 e-book edition, EditPros LLC).

They own and operate EditPros LLC, a company they established in 1993 to perform writing, editing and publication services.

Special to The Enterprise

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