A Wallowa County veteran is healing from much-needed shoulder replacement surgery thanks to Angel Flight, a national nonprofit that arranges free nonemergency air travel for children and adults with serious medical conditions or other compelling needs.
Army veteran Nicholas Pearson, Enterprise, was serving in Afghanistan in the early days of the war in 2004. An explosion left the private first-class with a shattered shoulder and other injuries. He was sent home to his native Texas in 2005. He was 23.
Evans went through several rounds of treatments at the VA hospital in Dallas, at the time considered a top-tier VA hospital. Several reconstructive surgeries failed to bring Pearson much relief.
The VA was also hesitant to do more surgeries because of his young age and the speed at which many of the artificial parts wear out.
For the next eight years, Pearson underwent physical therapy and wore a shoulder brace.
Pearson’s wife, Brytney, who hails from northern Idaho, was instrumental in their coming to the county after traveling through the area.
They moved almost immediately. That was two years ago. Brytney was pregnant.
The couple shortly encountered another snag in Pearson’s healing process during their first winter here –– last year’s particularly brutal season. The couple’s car got stuck, and Pearson further injured his shoulder trying to extract it.
As it happens, the feds allow veterans who live in rural areas far from VA hospitals to use local physicians.
Wallowa County is where Pearson got the help he needed.
“I called, and it’s been amazing,” he said. “It’s been a great experience.
He was referred to Portland’s Oregon Health Sciences University for surgery. The only problem was getting there. Pearson’s shoulder could not take the jarring and vibration of a six-hour drive.
Wallowa County veterans advocate Katherine Stickroth stepped in. She handled the logistics with Angel Flight. An Angel Flight pilot flew Pearson and his family to Portland in a Meridian luxury jet Feb. 6.
“An 80 minutes flight is a lot better than a seven-hour drive,” he said.
Pearson and his family arrived back home at the Joseph airport on Feb. 10, courtesy of Portland pilot Bjorn Freeman, who flies a Cessna Skymaster, a ‘60s-era civilian aircraft that holds up to six passengers. They emerged from the aircraft smiling and thanking Freeman for the flight before packing into their car for the ride home.
Today, Pearson is in full recovery mode, undergoing physical therapy and preparing for another flight to Portland for a post-surgery checkup.
“They’ve been absolutely great to deal with,” Pearson said. “The only thing that holds them up is the weather.”