Ready for flight

August 29, 2019

On February 11, 2019, 22-year-old Austen McDonald made history. He became the first Canadian with type 1 diabetes to receive a medical certificate from Transport Canada, allowing him to fly commercially. Diagnosed with diabetes in 2011 when he was 14 years old, he says, “I've always wanted to fly. I had my mind set when I was around 12 years old that I was going to follow my dad’s path through the air force and then into the airlines.” We spoke to Austen, and his dad, Captain Ed McDonald, who have been advocating, with support from Diabetes Canada, for Transport Canada to change its policy.

Why is this policy decision such a big deal?

Ed: Up until now, pilots who already had their commercial licence when they became insulin-dependent could apply for a medical certificate to keep flying. But no one who already was on insulin could do the same. It really made no sense to us.

Austen: Shortly after my diagnosis, I attended the diabetes transition program offered by the Stollery Children's Hospital, and was told that nearly every career opportunity was available to people like me—with the exception of military service and commercial piloting.

How long have you and your dad been talking to Transport Canada?

Austen: It has been nearly five years. After learning that there were pilots with type 1 diabetes working in the airline industry, my father started digging into the rules and regulations around the medical guidelines. Pilots who had gotten or kept their licences had been diagnosed after [becoming] pilots, and continued to work following successful appeals and risk assessments performed by themselves and Transport Canada.

How did you connect with Diabetes Canada?

Austen: Through my endocrinologist Dr. Peter Senior at the Kaye Edmonton Clinic. When I told him about some of the policy stances Transport Canada was taking, he encouraged us to get involved with the Diabetes Canada advocacy group to help with our case.

How does it feel to make history?

Austen: It is a great honour.

I am grateful for all the work done by my father, Diabetes Canada, my health-care team, and especially those pilots with type 1 diabetes who have trail-blazed since the '90s. I hope this [policy change] means that no one's dreams of being a pilot will be cut short by type 1 diabetes.



Canadians die of diabetes-related complications every day
That's over 7,300 Canadians a year


Canadians are diagnosed with this devastating disease every day
That's over 226,000 Canadians a year


Canadians have a lower limb amputation because of diabetes every day
That's over 5,000 amputations a year


is spent by our health care system treating diabetes every day
That's over $30 billion spent a year

The numbers are startling, but there is hope. A $150 million investment will save $20 billion in health-care costs and reduce over 770,000 new cases of diabetes in Canada in just 7 years. This small step will help save the lives of our family and friends. Join thousands of Canadians now and tell your local MP to support the Diabetes 360° strategy.

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It’s time for Canada to do better. Join tens of thousands of Canadians and email your MP to call for a nation-wide strategy to End Diabetes – Diabetes 360° – to be funded in Budget 2021!
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