JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR HICKAM, Hawaii - Kyra Furukawa, 5, checks out the inside of a C-17 static display during a tour as part of the Pilot for a Day Program held by the 535th Airlift Squadron here, July 16. Kyra is diagnosed with Juvenile Dermatomyositis and was chosen for the Pilot for a Day program by the Kapiolani Medical Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Gustavo Gonzalez)
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR HICKAM, Hawaii - Kyra Furukawa, 5, flys a C-17 simulator during a tour as part of the Pilot for a Day Program held by the 535th Airlift Squadron here, July 16. Kyra is diagnosed with Juvenile Dermatomyositis and was chosen for the Pilot for a Day program by the Kapiolani Medical Center. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Gustavo Gonzalez)
by Staff Sgt. Nathan Allen
15th Wing Public Affairs
7/23/2010 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR HICKAM, Hawaii -- It would surprise any of the Airmen watching 5-year-old Kyra climb in to the cockpit of a C-17 Globe master that a year ago she was unable to walk or eat due to the severe pain caused by her disease.
There are two constants people living in Hawaii see at any point in time when roaming the islands, especially Oahu - rainbows and airplanes. The 535th Airlift Squadron, and their C-17 Globemaster III invited Kyra Furukawa to get a chance to climb in to the cockpit of the large aircraft and actually take one down a runway and into the Hawaiian skies - even if it was virtual reality.
In a collaborative effort between the Kapiolani Medical Center and the Air Force, the Kyra was selected to be a "Pilot for a Day." During the tour Kyra, her father Alan, and her sister Sierra got to witness military working dog training and a demonstration, go onto the flightline and view a C-17 up close, wear a pair of night vision goggles while wearing aircrew equipment and check out the inner workings of the C-17 flight simulator.
"Our jobs aren't necessarily just to fight a war," said 1st Lt. Chris Nini, 535th AS. "It's being involved in the community - especially here in Hawai'i because the military is such a big part of everything. Providing outreach, getting involved and letting them know that we care."
More than a year ago, Kyra was diagnosed with juvenile dermatomyositis. JDMS is a rare incurable autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks blood vessels throughout the body, causing inflammation and pain. The disease is found in children under the age of 18 and affects approximately 5,000 people in the U.S.
Mr. Furukawa said that after extensive medical tests were performed and a diagnosis was made, both Kyra's family and doctors were surprised by the results.
"Last year, the disease was new to all of us including the doctors," he said. "Because there are so few cases, it's something you never see."
He explained the severity of the disease left her bedridden for three months. She had to undergo extensive physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and basically "she had to relearn everything." For the most part, just lifting her up was too painful for her.
"It got to the point that she couldn't eat because the muscles in her throat were too weak," Mr. Furukawa said. "There was a time when I prayed to God that she could come into my room, jump on my bed, and wake me up."
Even though Kyra isn't free from JDMS yet, she is doing much better.
"She's come so far in such a short amount of time," he said. "She's not at the point yet where doctors can say she's in remission. She sees about seven different doctors , but she's almost back to normal now. She can do a lot of activities a 5-year-old can do."
Despite a tough year filled with doctors and hospitals, the Furukawa family is thankful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities Kyra has been offered - opportunities like the "Pilot for a Day" program.
"Ever since Kyra was diagnosed with her illness a year ago, a lot of things have changed in our lives," Mr. Furukawa said. "We've had so many opportunities that we consider once in a lifetime experiences. It's something that Kyra will definitely remember. To meet all the wonderful people along the way who want to share a little bit of their time and experiences with us...it's just awesome."
Kyra said one of her favorite parts of the day was seeing the dog demonstration because they reminded her of her dogs at home.
Kyra's sister Sierra was equally enamored by the experience.
"It's awesome to see all the planes and things that people do here."
First Lt. Chris Nini, Kyra's co-pilot and director of the "Pilot for a Day" program for the 535th AS, said that part of wearing the uniform means letting the community know we represent them - not only on the battlefield.
"By helping out those less fortunate and becoming involved we make ourselves more accessible to the community that we're in," he said. "We like to let the community know that we're here for them."