VIENNA - Outfitted in a pint-sized flight suit and a pink U.S. Air Force ball cap, Kylee Vidas, 9, was ready to be Pilot for a Day on Wednesday at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.
"I'm gonna wear it as my Halloween costume," Kylee said of her outfit.
For the morning and afternoon, she was able to leave the stresses of her Type 1 diabetes behind as she was dubbed an honorary Air Force Reserve second lieutenant by station commander Col. James D. Dignan
Kylee stands inside the cockpit of a C-130 Hercules aircraft. She taxied along the runway in the aircraft as part of Pilot for a Day duties. Photo by Margaret Thompson
"Today you get to join our family," Dignan said.
Patients between the ages of 8 and 14 at Akron Children's Hospital who have a chronic, debilitating or life-threatening illness are selected to participate in the Pilot for a Day program four times a year. The child is given a tour of the station and taxied down the runway in a C-130 Hercules aircraft.
Kylee, who is headed into the fourth grade at Howland's North Road Elementary School, was diagnosed with diabetes at age 3. She has her blood checked about four times a day, more depending on her school activities.
"It's all she really knows. I think she deals with it well," said her mother, Robin Joyce of Warren.
In January, Kylee suffered a stroke, something that happens to only six in every 100,000 children per year, according to the National Stork Association. While it is not directly related to her diabetes, her father said he questions whether it was an effect of her medication.
"She had a bad stroke in January. For her to be here, I couldn't ask for any more," father Robert Vidas of Youngstown said.
Even in the Intensive Care Unit after her stroke, Kylee's mother said she was asking if she could still be pilot for a day. She finished her physical therapy and is wrapping up speech therapy.
Kylee's excitement carried throughout the day as she toured the station, hopped in a rescue raft, tested night vision goggles, and helped give radio commands as the C-130 which was emblazoned with her name took her down the runway at nearly 100 knots.
"Kids are definitely our future and so how we treat them is important," Col. Cathy Miller said.
Miller, who Kylee affectionately referred to as "Boss," helped lead Kylee and her family around the station and piloted the C-130. The program was started in June of 2000. Kylee is the 53rd patient to be sworn in at the station.
"It's an amazing program. We just love kids. It gets everyone involved," said Maj. Brent Davis, chief of public affairs at the station.