Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Leukemia Can't Ground Teen's Fancy for Flight Young Pilot Endured 3 Hip Replacements in 16 Months

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Leukemia Can't Ground Teen's Fancy for Flight Young Pilot Endured 3 Hip Replacements in 16 Months

Article excerpt

Wind gusts whipped her hair and sweater yesterday, as Gail Chopra worried the thrashing breezes would keep her son from fulfilling his dream.

Sixteen-year-old Andrew Chopra, who is diagnosed with leukemia, has always wanted to be a pilot.

After nearly five years of lessons, the young Chopra tackled his first solo flight in a single-engine Piper Warrior yesterday as his mother, two older brothers and their families watched.

The wings wobbled slightly as the plane flew over waves of rushing wind, but Chopra leveled and finished his rectangular route around Craig Airport in Arlington.

"There he goes, our little warrior," said his mother, a nurse with Baptist Home Healthcare in Jacksonville.

After three "touch-and-gos," where the plane touches down, then takes off again without stopping, Chopra's plane landed and began slowing.

"Look at that, perfect," said Jerry Straw, who owns North Florida Flight School with his wife.

"Good landing," said Chopra's flight instructor, Brad Rose. "Usually, you don't send people up in this type of weather, but he's very capable of it. His landings are perfect, better than a lot of people do with this wind."

In the last 16 months, Chopra has had three hip replacements and for two years he was forced to use a wheelchair. But he still flew. Chopra would wheel up to the low-wing plane, hoist himself on the wing, climb into the seat and take flight.

Then Chopra used a walker. Then a cane. Now he walks unassisted, but hobbles slightly.

When he was 12, Chopra had a bone marrow transplant and was in the hospital for nearly a year. He fought ulcers, suffered third-degree burns and needed a feeding tube for about two years.

"You take each day. You make it a golden day," Gail Chopra said.

She didn't worry about anything bad that could happen when her son climbed into the small plane.

"After leukemia, what is this? Let's be glad he's here. If he has to go, let him go like this," she said. …

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