Eglin Airman participates in adaptive camp

  • Published
  • By Kevin Gaddie
  • Eglin Air Force Base Public Affairs
Like the aircraft he used to load and test bombs on before circumstances abruptly ended his career, a retired 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Airman is a fighter.

Two years after complications from a massive stroke that forced Senior Airman Chris Fugitt to retire from the Air Force, his warrior spirit enabled him to power past a number of debilitating setbacks, to the point where he attended his first adaptive sports and rehabilitation camp here this week.

Fugitt was a 96th AMXS armament weapons loader and armament systems technician. He loaded bombs on the F-15 Eagle, the A-10 Thunderbolt II and tested the weapons before they were used in combat.

His nine-year military career was suddenly stopped short in 2013, when he suffered a renal infarction in one of his kidneys. An infarction occurs when an area of kidney tissue dies due to lack of oxygen. An adverse reaction to medication he was given for the infarction triggered a cerebellum stroke while he was sleeping.

"From there, things just spiraled out of control," he said.

The stroke paralyzed Fugitt on his right side. It also affected his vision, caused memory loss and produced a stomach aneurysm, according to the 29 year old.

At the same time, he also suffered a cat allergy that brought on endocarditis fever, an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart, which directly affects the heart valves.

The fever led to immediate replacement of his bicuspid valve, a condition of the aortic valve where two of the aortic valvular leaflets fuse during development. The Cleveland native said the condition has been documented since birth and monitored throughout his life.

According to Fugitt, a bicuspid valve is usually watched more closely in a person's later years and possible replacement happens then. However, his valve replacement was sped up by the stroke.

Since the stroke, Fugitt has undergone several surgeries, speech rehabilitation and learned to walk again. Because of his determination, he's gradually regained some muscle memory, some use of his right side and is now ambidextrous. However, he said he believes he will have lasting physical challenges.

"I'm still fighting," he said.

The former weapons loader was presented with the idea of participating in the camp earlier this year by his recovery care coordinator.

"He thought it might help with my recovery," he said. "He was right. The camp is fantastic."

His wife, Megan, his caregiver, and his service dog, Rebel, were with him through every phase of the camp.

"It's a really wonderful experience to be around people who are in the same situation we are," said Megan, who has two children with Fugitt. "It feels like being part of a family."

Fugitt said he didn't concentrate on any one particular camp event, but enjoyed trying all of them.

He feels the camp's adaptive aspect brought him and his fellow wounded warriors closer together as they compete, despite their physical challenges.

"I tell the coaches what I can do and can't do, and they give me solutions," Fugitt said. "I can't focus and coordinate well enough to use one hand with a basketball, so they let me use two hands. They also helped me figure out which hand is the best to use, in the shot put event. The camaraderie has been great."

Now that he's medically retired from the Air Force, the former Airman is focused on continued improvement and being a husband and father. Fugitt recently purchased a home in Washington state and will move there with his family in May.

"My long-term goals are to keep improving, physically and mentally, and to take care of my wife and children," Fugitt said. "It's what I have to do."