Brewton boy becomes ‘Pilot for a Day'

Published 9:51 am Wednesday, March 26, 2008

By Staff
Story and photo by Lisa Tindell
Garrett Byrd can't fly a plane, but he has been a pilot. Byrd, along with other members of his family, were recently treated to the “Pilot for a Day” program at Naval Air Station Whiting Field near Milton, Fla.
Children with chronic or serious illnesses who are patients at Sacred Heart Hospital's pediatric unit are chosen to participate in the program.
A visit to one of the flight simulators was Garrett's favorite part of the day, he said.
Garrett made the trip with his mother, Maggie, his father, Ken, and sisters Lauren and Sarah Katherine.
Children with chronic illnesses have little opportunity to feel special, Maggie said.
Garrett suffers from a variety of problems that are a direct result of an illness he has been living with for four years. “Garrett was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when he was four,” Maggie said. “We actually thought he had broken his knee because it swelled to big. After doctors did some X-rays and some other examinations, they diagnosed him with RA.”
Although Maggie said RA is the major cause of his problems, the 8-year-old Brewton Elementary student suffers from a secondary illness that seems to create more problems than RA.
Garrett's current condition has made him ineligible for lens replacement surgery, Maggie said. “Since he wasn't able to get a lens replacement, he has to wear contact lenses,” Maggie said. “He also has to wear bifocal glasses in order to see.”
Garrett takes medication that helps to keep inflammation of his joints at a minimum, Maggie said. However, the drugs suppress his immune system, which is always a concern for the family.
The vision problems Garret experiences regularly have caused him to miss several days of school over the last month, Maggie said.
Along with missing school because of vision issues, Garrett has to miss school at other times because of some of his treatments, Maggie said.
Medications currently have Garrett's RA under control, but problems do come up from time to time, Maggie said.