September 30, 2011
By Samantha Joseph
TREASURE COAST – Before he showed signs last July of the bone cancer that has changed his life, 16-year-old Ashton Richards played football for Treasure Coast High School’s Titans.
Now, he is homebound, and the Port St. Lucie boy’s main activity is making trips to the hospital for chemotherapy.
But thanks to the efforts of Martin County’s “airport community,” the teen was able to forget his struggle for a day.
“It was amazing,” said Ashton. “I never rode a plane before, so to be in a four-seater plane and have the opportunity to help fly it back was amazing. To be able to look at the controls inside and the landscape was great. I really enjoyed myself.”
A group of area aviators made the teen’s dream come true by flying Ashton and his mother, Curletha Campbell, in private planes and allowing him to serve as co-pilot.
Members of the Experimental Aircraft Association of Stuart took the boy and his mother on a 40-minute flight to Okeechobee, where they treated them to breakfast, and let Ashton help pilot the plane on the way back.
“I could never get him to fly anywhere in the past, but recently, he said he would like to do it,” said Ms. Campbell. “He seemed to be excited about taking a flight.”
To help grant her son’s wish, Ms. Campbell contacted Stuart Airport director George Stokus, who passed word about Ashton to Tony DeLorenzo, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association.
The group, which offers “young eagle” flights to teach children about aviation, immediately agreed to help.
Its members, Danny Livingston and Bob Bennet, offered their four- and two-seater planes for the trip.
They also gained support from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, along with securing help from Stuart Jet Center and Galaxy Aviation, which provided fuel for the airplanes and a gift bag for the boy.
On Sept. 21, the group took Ashton on a tour of the control tower at Stuart Airport, and then flew him to the Landing Strip restaurant in Okeechobee for breakfast.
“He had a wonderful time,” Ms. Campbell said. “He has a beautiful smile, and I’m always trying to pull it out of him, because he gets very sad some days because of the cancer. But there was a lot of smiling on the trip, and that’s what I was shooting for.”
The outing was a great treat for Ashton, who spent the day after the flight getting tests, scans and having doctor consultations.
He was in the hospital from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and couldn’t eat for the entire day because of the tests. He and his mother then had to commute from West Palm Beach to Port St. Lucie.
The treatments have also taken a financial toll, because Mrs. Campbell loses income every time she misses work to take her son to an appointment.
Supporters have set up an account in Ashton’s name at Wells Fargo, formerly Wachovia bank, to assist the family.
The limitations the illness places on Ashton’s body have also been difficult for the once-active teen, his mother said.
“It is hard for him to stay home on the weekends,” she said. “He wants to go out and do all the things that his friends do.”
The group of pilots and aviation enthusiasts said they were proud to help.
“We were happy to do it and see a smile on a kid’s face,” said Mr. DeLorenzo. “He was nervous at first, but once he got in the airplane and started looking around, he couldn’t wait to get back in it again. Now he wants to do it again.”
Source: HOMETOWN NEWS