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Pilot travels to New Zealand to give thanks
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., - Hannah Foster, left, takes hair clippers to her friend's father, Lt. Col. Joe Nauman, in a lighthearted approach to his hair loss due to chemotherapy. Colonel Nauman, a Reservist with the 97th Airlift Squadron, JBLM McChord Field, recently visited the doctor in New Zealand whom he credits with initiating the discovery of his illness. (Courtesy photo)
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Pilot travels to New Zealand to give thanks

Posted 3/9/2010   Updated 3/9/2010 Email story   Print story


by Sandra Pishner
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

3/9/2010 - JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- When one person takes that extra step to help you, at a minimum it's worthy of a thank you. And when that step results in saving your life, you may even fly 7,000 miles to say thank you in person.

Last month, Lt. Col. Joe Nauman, 97th Airlift Squadron, departed from Seattle to Christchurch, New Zealand as he has before when deploying for Operation Deep Freeze. Only this time, he was on leave and on his way to see Dr. Denise Nicholson, a general practitioner at the Straven Medical Rooms.

In February 2009, while deployed in support of Operation Deep Freeze, Colonel Nauman finally gave in to a chest cold he had been fighting and went to the local medical clinic for care. Although his symptom did not send up a red flag for anything more serious than a bad cold, Dr. Nicholson, almost as an afterthought, sent the Reserve pilot to the local hospital for a chest X-ray. That one extra step she took in looking after her new patient started the process of diagnosing, treating and putting him on the road to remission from the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that had invaded Colonel Nauman's body.

"Doctor Nicholson really saved my life," said Colonel Nauman, the assistant operations officer in the 97th AS. "She could have simply given me antibiotics and sent me on my way. But something clicked for her and she sent me over to the Christchurch hospital for a chest X-ray that same day. From there everything just snowballed, with me being sent straight to oncology where they did a CT scan, ultrasound, and a biopsy."

The doctors at Christchurch Hospital suspected non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, stage 1. That diagnoses was confirmed when Colonel Nauman returned to Washington and went to Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint-Base Lewis-McChord, where he was admitted Feb. 25, 2009.

On March 10, 2009, Colonel Nauman received his first dose of chemotherapy.

"I did three rounds of chemo, followed by 25 radiation treatments," he said. "It only took about three weeks before my hair started falling out," said Colonel Nauman, who today sports a full head of hair. "When that started happening, I just decided to go with it and had my kids and their friends use clippers to shave my head. We had fun with it. It's all come back now, a little softer and with just the right amount of gray." Colonel Nauman has a 10-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.

Currently in a medical-hold status, Colonel Nauman, who is an air reserve technician, originally was going to write a thank you letter for the Doctor Nicholson to be read to her by 446th Airlift Wing Reservists in New Zealand for the current Operation Deep Freeze season. But his wife proposed to him that he offer the heartfelt appreciation in person. Knowing he couldn't fly on a Deep Freeze mission to New Zealand because of this medical-hold status, the colonel considered using an airline buddy pass, but ultimately bought a ticket (with his wife's blessing).

"Throughout my illness, I've had fantastic support from the people here in the 97th AS," said Colonel Nauman. "They told me if there was anything they could do to help, they would, and they did."

The squadron, according to Lt. Col. Scott Weichert, 97th AS commander, does what it always does best - take care of people.

"The Naumans are an integral part of our squadron and our response for their support was immediate. Joe and Kim returned from New Zealand with all of the necessary support mechanisms in place," said Colonel Weichert. "Families rallied and administrative forces worked harmoniously, resulting in the best possible outcome for both Joe and his family."

The squadron commander also credits other units for providing the best possible support for Colonel Nauman.

"The 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron showed their finest, initiating all the necessary processes and being the liaison with Madigan Army Medical Center. It was a joint Team Lewis-McChord effort ending in a cancer-free conclusion to their story," said Colonel Weichert.

Throughout his illness, the colonel mixed in humor and healthy habits to his treatment plan. "It is a real character building experience. But, I want to be part of the 90 percent success rate in my recovery."

Back at his ART job in the wing full-time, Colonel Nauman hopes to be back soon flying the C-17. The Air Force standard for clearing a pilot for returning to flight status is one year in remission. For Colonel Nauman, that will be in October.

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