AUGUSTA, Ga. — Eighteen months after a partial leg amputation caused by a helicopter crash, Augusta native Byron “Mac” Meads has Army approval to fly again.
“I’m not going to be as happy doing anything else in my life as I would be flying,” said Meads, who received the official word Tuesday nearly two months after successfully passing a two-hour medical evaluation flight.
Although his body is a little different, the 38-year-old chief warrant officer and standardization instructor pilot is fully mobile and able to do everything he could before his injuries. He is stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., in the Warrior Transition Unit.
The Westside High School graduate was flying a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan on June 21, 2012, when his OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter crashed because of mechanical failure. He and his co-pilot survived but Meads suffered two broken legs, spinal damage and a brain injury.
He was on the road to a recovery when doctors discovered in October 2012 that bones in his left leg weren’t healing properly and were infected.
Doctors removed metal from the leg and gave Meads a “heavy dose” of antibiotics to fight the infection, but it didn’t work. Doctors told him he might never run on the leg again and could suffer considerable pain for the rest of his life.
“You would not believe the amount of pain I was in on a daily basis,” Meads said in a phone interview. “I was taking pain killers four to five times a day of a very high strength variety and I had nerve damage in my ankle. It makes you a horrible person to be around because you’re always drugged up.”
As the pain increased and the infection spread he began researching other options and found an Army pilot who was still flying with the use of a prosthetic. A talk with the pilot and doctors helped reassure him that he could continue his flying career with a prosthetic.
In March 2013, he elected to have his leg amputated from around mid-shin. The specific type of amputation, which consists of reconnecting two leg bones to create a bone bridge, is often used by athletes who still want to run or jump with a prosthetic.
On April 15, 2013, Meads took his first step with his prosthetic.
“It was incredible,” he said of his first step after nearly a year of being in a wheelchair. “It was the first obstacle to getting back to the life I wanted to lead.”
Nearly nine months later he’s back to running and chasing after his kids without trouble. Sometimes he gets phantom limb sensations “like someone running a feather down my foot,” he said, but no phantom pains, which he calls a blessing.
As obstacle after obstacle came up, Meads kept his mind focused on getting in the air again. With 15 years in the Army and just under 4,000 hours of flight time, he said not flying would be a waste and a shame.
His family, although apprehensive, has been supportive of his decision. Plus, he has promised to move from a single to a dual engine helicopter.
Despite the struggles, Meads said giving up was never an option.
“You go to Walter Reed (National Military Medical Center) and see double and triple amputees and people paralyzed. They never give up. They’re fighting to have a life,” Meads said. “With my injury I’m fully mobile so I owe it to them to do the most I can to fulfill my life. God knows, if they had my opportunity they would. It seems selfish of me not to try.”
He has been assigned to a Lakota dual-engine helicopter and expects to begin training this summer.