Susan Michaelis was a BAe 146 pilot in her native Australia a decade ago.
But she lost her aircrew medical category through neurological damage, the result of repeated exposure to organophosphates from oil that got into the engine bleed air feeding the cabin air conditioning and pressurisation system.
She lost her job, and the industry she had worked in abandoned her.
Symptoms of her illness were frequent sickness and a numbing, permanent tiredness. These still affect her a decade later.
Yesterday she was awarded a PhD in Safety Science: 'Health and Flight Implications From Exposure to Contaminated Air in Aircraft' by the University of New South Wales. Not an ordinary PhD, but with the highest possible marks. Originally she had begun a Masters Degree course, but the University said her research into contaminated cabin air in aviation was so good she should push on for a PhD.
Meanwhile she had become head of research for the voluntary Global Cabin Air Quality Executive. The GCAQE's co-chairman Tristan Loraine, himself a former Boeing 757 pilot with BA who lost his health and job the same way as Susan did, said this about her achievement:
"Her 975 page thesis uncovers a lot of new data going back to the early 1950s showing just how much was known of the risks of exposing people to contaminated air. Susan has worked tirelessly for many years to help crews around the world and to help resolve these issues. Susan is a tribute and example to us all, of human perseverance for justice."
Tristan, also a phoenix, has set up a fim production company Factnotfiction Films.
(Any crew or passengers who believe they might be suffering from the same condition that affected Susan and Tristan should visit the Aerotoxic Association's website.)