Pilot with dementia takes his final flight in Georgetown

Williamson County

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — One Central Texas man in his final months got a special trip down memory lane in Georgetown Monday. 

David Shinneman, 73, is a patient with Kindred Hospice and lives in a memory care facility in Cedar Park. A local flight school let him go up in the air Monday for what will be his final flight.

There are a lot of things Shinneman can’t remember, he mistakenly told his wife they’d been married 60 years (they’ve been married 25). His memory has declined since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and dementia a decade ago.

However, he can tell you a lot about his career as a pilot. Shinneman began flying at age 19 because his father was a pilot. He continued to work as a pilot throughout his life, both commercially and on charter planes. His diagnosis ultimately forced him to give up his pilot’s license.

His wife, who also happens to be a hospice nurse, said that his days as a pilot are where his mind drifts to most of the time.

“It’s totally different when it’s your loved one — when it’s your spouse,” said Marci Shinneman, Dave’s wife. “Because you’re not just losing your husband, you’re losing that best friend.” 

Marci tries to be realistic about her husband’s prognosis, doctors don’t expect he will live through the end of the year. 

“I know what’s coming, so we just enjoy the time we can,” she said. 

Tim Kreuger, the volunteer coordinator with Kindred Hospice, learned that Dave hadn’t been up in a plane since his diagnosis and began looking into getting him a final flight. Kreuger is a pilot himself  and worked with Pilot’s Choice Aviation who donated a flight for Dave and his wife in a Cessna 172 

Krueger said the general public sometimes misunderstands why experiences like this are important for patients with diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

“It’s not that someone is giving up hope for curing a disease, our goal with hospice is to focus on the quality of the life remaining,” Kreuger said. 

He added that while Dave experienced the first “final flight” their hospice has coordinated, they have many patients who receive music therapy and have seen improvements in how they respond to their environment afterward. 

Dave’s wife said that with an unpredictable diagnosis like this, even a glimmer of happiness would be worth the energy it takes to get him on a plane. 

“Anything [patients] love can bring them back for a second, you don’t know for how long,” she said. 

Dave’s family and the hospice employees watched as he and Marci climbed into the plane and took a half hour ride. 

On the flight, Dave lifted his head up, kept his eyes wide and held onto the controls in the cockpit. 

Dave walked off of the plane in good spirits, telling his family members all the things he got to experience in the air.  

“When the guy asked him how he liked it, he said, ‘Well it could have been a little longer,'” his wife recounted with a laugh. 

While Dave’s physical care from hospice staff is important now, his caregivers agree that it is also important for him to have experiences like this which bring him joy in spite of the disease.

His wife Marci explained that at this stage in Dave’s life, he has good moments and bad moments. This flight, she said, was a good moment. 

“It’s been awesome, I’m glad he could do it,” Marci said. 

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