Thirteen-year-old Anthony Lickteig-Carter wasn’t ready to give up on his dream of being an airline pilot. But he needed an IV nightly and couldn’t go more than a few months without another failed surgery. How was he supposed to safely fly an airplane?
Anthony was born with gastroschisis, with his intestines outside his body, causing major problems for his digestion and nutrition throughout his childhood that multiple surgeries couldn’t seem to fix. The planes soaring over his home near Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) airport provided an escape and a window into the world he wanted to join – but also a painful reminder of the condition that kept him on the ground.
But then things started to turn around. One last, experimental surgery finally did the trick, allowing him to be a normal kid for once. And Anthony got his wish: He got to be a pilot for a day with Northwest Airlines, pilot’s cap and all.
Join us on Facebook Live at 2:30 p.m. CST on Monday as we chat with Anthony about his incredible story.
That magical day changed Anthony’s life.
That was in 2001. Today, Anthony is an airline captain, flying for one of the nation’s biggest airlines out of Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP). He’s worked his way up the ranks since joining in 2015 and is training to fly even bigger jets. And it all leads back to that day in 2001.
“To be able to feel the airline hat that they made me for my wish, to smell the jet fuel…” the 32-year-old pilot trailed off, recalling that day. “That was honestly the pivotal point in my life.”
Thrifty Traveler is partnering with Make-A-Wish Minnesota – the same nonprofit organization that granted Anthony’s childhood wish and put him on the path to be an airline captain – to help make more wishes come true. Together, we’re aiming to raise at least 2 million frequent flyer miles this week for kids like Anthony suffering critical illnesses who just need a break and a dose of hope. Read more on our mileage drive with Make-A-Wish Minnesota and how you can help!
Whether you’ve got miles that are expiring soon, sitting unused, or just want to make a struggling child’s day, please help us change lives by donating to Make-A-Wish Minnesota today. You can help wishes like Anthony’s take flight. Anyone who donates 50,000 miles or more will be entered in a drawing for a $500 Delta gift card!
Born to Be a Pilot
Anthony doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t want to be a pilot.
“I honestly think I came out of the womb with some aviators on, just ready to go,” he joked. “I was born with it.”
But his health had other ideas. Even after fixing the initial defect, his body just couldn’t get what it needed – an IV bag was a nightly routine for nutrition.
He had at least one major surgery a year, with plenty of smaller procedures peppered in throughout, but the problems would return. Nurses eventually had to put the IVs into his neck: his arms couldn’t take anymore.
In the blur of appointments, anesthesia, surgeries, and suffering that robbed him of much of a normal childhood, his dream of flying – and the family cat his mom smuggled into hotel rooms – was the only constant.
“I had airplanes in every part of my hospital room. I had it in every room at my house. I always requested to be in a hospital room with a window so I could see the airplanes fly overhead,” Anthony said.
By the time he was getting ready to enter high school, Anthony and his family were running out of options. They were staring down the frightening possibility that he may deal with this condition for life.
That’s when his mom asked a seemingly innocuous question: If you could do one thing, what would it be? He didn’t hesitate.
“I want to be a pilot for a day,” he responded.
A Wish Granted and One Last Surgery
His wish materialized fast.
Little did he know, Anthony’s mom had been in touch with Make-A-Wish Minnesota. And soon, one of their wish-granting volunteers dropped by the house with the good news: He was going to be a pilot for a day.
He still remembers the day his life started to change: Oct. 9, 2001.
That’s when Anthony and his mom joined Northwest Airlines on a flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Milwaukee (MKE). In the shadow of 9/11, Anthony wasn’t allowed in the cockpit mid-flight. But Northwest outfitted him with his own pilot’s uniform and cap. He joined the captain for a safety check of the tires and engines before boarding, plopping down in a first class seat. He got into the cockpit with the crew during their layover in Milwaukee before making the flight home.
Make-A-Wish Minnesota granted Anthony’s wish, and it crystallized what he already knew: He would find a way to be a pilot.
“There was no doubt in my mind that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
Almost 20 years later, Anthony still calls it one of the two most important events in his life. The second came soon after.
Anthony had a medical breakthrough. An experimental surgery at the St. Paul Children’s Hospital finally solved what dozens of previous procedures could not. After so many failed surgeries, he and his family didn’t want to get their hopes up. But six months turned into a year turned into three and eventually five, and Anthony’s body was finally operating as it should.
Aside from a yearly check-in with the doctor, everything is normal: the condition that shaped his entire childhood is firmly in the past now. And he credits both his doctor and Make-A-Wish for that.
“I owe everything to that doctor,” Anthony says. “Those are the two biggest driving forces that literally helped me push through mentally, physically, and just forget about all the negativity in my life at the time.”
A Pilot’s Dream
Today, Anthony is always behind the yoke of planes he once stared up at.
He’s been flying Bombardier CRJ-900s, 76-seater planes on regional flights. He’s training to move up to the Embraer E-175, a bigger plane.
The 32-year-old captain isn’t done dreaming. His goal is to fly what he and fellow pilots call “the big heavies” – Boeing 777s or 767s that fly internationally. With 30-plus years of flying ahead of him, he’s got time to get there.
But this dream is different.
“Honestly, the ultimate goal has already been achieved,” he said. “Everything that happens from here on out is just the icing on the cake.”
All photos courtesy of Anthony Lickteig-Carter