The “Big C” must be the most serious disturbance in Cebuano teenager Jake Adonis Sebial’s turbulent life.
The same disease, however, paved the way for the fulfillment of his dream of becoming a pilot, even for just 45 minutes of his revitalized life.
Last Wednesday afternoon, Jake experienced how it feels to fly a plane, through no less than a state-of-the-art Airbus A320 flight simulator at Asian Aviation Center of Excellence in Sepang, Malaysia, thanks to the generosity of AirAsia—the largest Asian low-cost carrier—as well as the help of nonprofit Make-A-Wish Foundation Philippines.
Jake has always dreamed of occupying the pilot’s seat, his aunt Rubi told reporters. At one point, she related, the 18-year-old thought the dream would no longer materialize.
In August last year, Jake was hospitalized after showing symptoms of dengue fever. A month later, however, he was diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML), a cancer affecting the blood and bone marrow.
According to medical experts, AML progresses quickly and can lead to death within weeks or months if not immediately treated. But the disease did not stop Jake nor his family in Danao City from fighting for the young man’s life.
That was not the first time Jake hung on for dear life. At the age of 7, he was electrocuted and lost his right index finger. The accident did not become a liability—the right-handed boy eventually learned to use his left hand just as much.
As cancer weakened Jake’s body, he had to stop going to school. His health suffered immensely. “He almost died. His body looked dead; only his brain was functioning,” Rubi said.
Alongside chemotherapy sessions, Jake found solace in the promise of his parents—who run a sari-sari store to earn a living—to bring him to Singapore as soon as he recovered.
During his stay at Perpetual Succour Hospital in Cebu City, Jake met a volunteer of Make-A-Wish Foundation Philippines who got wind of his ambition to fly an airplane.
The Cebuano volunteer later wrote AirAsia Philippines, hoping that the budget airline could make Jake’s dream come true.
According to its website, Make-A-Wish “grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy” across the globe. It further claims to be the “world’s largest and most respected wish-granting institution.”
Te Candano, a trustee of Make-A-Wish Foundation Philippines, said the group facilitated the grant of four kinds of wishes: “wish to be,” “wish to go,” “wish to have” and “wish to meet.” In the case of Jake, it was a “wish to be”—to become a pilot.
AirAsia Philippines swiftly responded to Make-A-Wish, according to the airline’s public relations officer, Genefer B. Tan. However, as the budget carrier and the foundation worked together to fulfill Jake’s wish, tragedies of a larger scale came their way.
Late last year, a strong earthquake leveled Central Visayas, then Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan), which battered central Philippines, soon after. Due to these calamities, AirAsia focused its corporate social responsibility initiatives on relief operations. For one, it offered free rides from Tacloban to Manila for three days post-Yolanda, Tan said.
Almost a year after Jake discovered that he was afflicted with cancer, AirAsia Philippines made his wish come true.
Medical clearance was first secured to see if it was safe for Jake to travel by air. He is still undergoing medication and bone marrow examinations, even as chemotherapy just concluded in February. He still has to take medicines until April next year on top of monthly checkups, Rubi said.
Last Tuesday, Jake and Rubi were flown from Cebu to Manila before they were joined by Candano from Manila to Malaysia’s new budget terminal, Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA 2). It was Jake’s first time to ride an airplane.
Just a stone’s throw away from KLIA 2 is the sprawling Asian Aviation Center of Excellence, a training center jointly run by AirAsia and Canadian aviation services giant CAE. Formerly known as AirAsia Academy, it is where jet pilots, aviation engineers, flight attendants, ground staff and ramp agents who are mainly of AirAsia as well as a number of other airlines learn the tricks of the trade.
The facility has six Airbus simulators. Using these flight simulators is not cheap. A student-pilot has to shell out about $3,600 for every four-hour session.
The simulators themselves entail huge investments of around $10 million for an A320 unit and as much as $15 million for the A330 simulator. AirAsia allowed Jake to use the facility for free.
In one of the A320 flight training simulators, Jake was assisted by veteran pilot Lee Seong Thiang who has accumulated 25,000 flying hours from his 45 years on the job.
For 45 minutes, Lee demonstrated to Jake how to takeoff, fly between Penang and Kuala Lumpur and back, rise to an altitude of up to 4,800 meters (16,000 feet) and, of course, land safely at the airport.
Never give up
Lee also advised Jake to always study hard and never give up on his dream. Being a pilot is not easy, Jake said after experiencing it first hand.
“It’s difficult to fly a plane because of the many controls in the cockpit. It’s difficult to maneuver and increase speed. But I can do it. I should study to be able to do it well,” Jake said.
Jake was also toured around the facility and shown the in-flight, guest service and mock up rooms, as well as the swimming pool where aspiring cabin crew members undergo training. He was also taught how to open and close those huge airplane doors.
For Jake, the most enjoyable part of their simulated flight was when they were cruising because it felt steady, even as Lee put simulated turbulence in between.
He revealed that during the flight from Manila to Malaysia, he felt nervous when the plane shook a couple of times amid a thunderstorm.
But after his simulated flying experience, Jake said any fear of flying that he might have had disappeared.
With this added inspiration from a wish come true, Jake has become more determined to reach his dream and fly high.
“I want to become a pilot to earn a living for my family. I want to travel around the world. Thank you to AirAsia for the dream come true. I was inspired by what they taught me,” Jake said.