8-year-old boy enjoys being pilot for a day
The New Wilmington boy became an honorary second lieutenant .
By KANTELE FRANKO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
VIENNA -- Stoyan Pontius looked much like the real second lieutenants walking around the Youngstown Air Reserve Station on Wednesday morning.
The 8-year-old wore a child-sized version of the green jumpsuit and black boots worn by air crews, and for five hours, he was "one of the guys."
Through the "Pilot for a Day" program, Col. Tim Thomson commissioned Stoyan as an honorary second lieutenant at the 910th Airlift Wing.
The program, sponsored by the Base Community Council, offers 7- to 16-year-old children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses the opportunity to tour the base, try on Air Force flying gear, taxi in a C-130 Hercules aircraft and use a weapons training simulator.
Stoyan, a New Wilmington resident, is one of 10 patients from Tod Children's Hospital who has participated in the program since it began in 2000.
Smiling at he took his oath, Stoyan promised to "enjoy this day to the fullest extent, so help me God." And that he did.
Although the aircraft never left the ground, the highlight of the day for Stoyan was a ride in the C-130 during a 60-second high-speed acceleration down the runway.
He sat in the flight engineer's seat, listening to his headset and flipping switches at the commands of the pilots and flight engineer.
At the end of the day, he left with a bag of goodies that included a mirror, chemical light sticks, a hat and a pilot's manual.
And not once during the day did Stoyan ever seem like a child with a chronic illness.
Stoyan was diagnosed about three years ago with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, or ITP, a blood disorder that causes low platelet counts and inhibits blood clotting.
The Pilot for a Day program is designed to help brighten the lives of young patients like Stoyan, who receives intravenous treatments every two weeks.
His mother, Beth Pontius, who accompanied him throughout the day, said her son had been excited about the day since he learned he was a patient selected to participate.
"He's so excited," she said. "I can't believe he slept last night."
Beth said the Pilot for a Day Program was uplifting for Stoyan because it was an experience that his brothers didn't have.
She and her husband, Robert, adopted Stoyan and his two brothers, 10-year-old Slavi and 7-year-old Stefan, from Bulgaria several years ago. The Pontiuses also have a 5-year-old son named Robert.
"This day is especially nice because he has to watch his brothers sign up for sports but he can't play sports," she said.
She added that Stoyan likely would remember the day for most of his life and that it might further influence his ideas of one day joining the military.