Pilot (40) pays the price for living with busy schedules, jet lag and irregular meals

"We’ve finally got our old Robert back"

Robert had been a pilot for more than 18 years when he blacked out. This was preceded by regular dizzy spells and light-headedness for a quite some time. Robert blames this on the combination of busy flight schedules, jet lag and irregular meals. Having just arrived home from a busy shift he was on his way to bed, but first wanted to take the laundry out of the dryer. That’s when he fell down the stairs. With only a stiff arm and many bruises, Robert counted his blessings, but three days later it became clear that this was not an isolated incident. 

Aerotoxic syndrome

Before a return flight to Schiphol he got an indefinable feeling. "I couldn’t see clearly, and wasn’t completely alert." Robert decided to ask the co-pilot to take over. During the flight, his indefinable feeling disappeared. Back in the Netherlands, Robert immediately reported the incident to his employer, KLM. A visit to the doctor followed. "I was afraid that I was suffering from aerotoxic syndrome." Although medical science is divided, it is believed that aerotoxic syndrome is caused among flight crews by inhaling high concentrations of oil vapour distributed through the air that is supplied from the bleed air taken from the aircraft engines. 

Shattered and exhausted

Robert's GP was not familiar with aerotoxic syndrome and so referred him to a neurologist, who concluded that it was probably a case of hyperventilation. "He dismissed aerotoxic syndrome because, according to him, its existence had never been proven," says Robert. "I felt I wasn’t being taken very seriously." Visits to psychotherapists convinced Robert that he was suffering from burnout. "I was totally shattered, had been leading a stressful life for years and was severely overfatigued." 

Shorter flights

So as to break the jetlag and long-flight regime, he had already opted two years previously to exchange long haul intercontinental flights for short haul flights within Europe. “As it turned out that wasn't the solution either." Triggered by a Zembla broadcast about aerotoxic syndrome, Robert made an appointment with the Functional Neurology Institute in Lisse. In combination with a DNA test, the institute established that although Robert suffered complaints, which also manifest as aerotoxic syndrome, it was a pseudo-variant. "That was a huge relief. I really feared I had aerotoxic syndrome and that I was pretty much done." 

Effective treatment plan

A blood test initiated by the Functional Neurology Institute showed that Robert suffered from leaky gut syndrome and food intolerance. "Since then, I've been sticking to a gluten-free diet and no longer eat eggs and beef." The prescribed supplements XO-7 salmon oil, Neurex and Gabax also contribute to Robert's recovery. "They really have a beneficial effect on the brain." Combined with a variety of brain and eye exercises, Robert has noticed that rest, supplements and an adjusted diet do him good. 

Firmer on his feet

"I was often dizzy and not very steady on my feet, but after my first GyroStim treatment, I immediately noticed a change for the better." The GyroStim is a high-tech computer-controlled chair that can rotate around its axes in different directions, helping clinicians to cure patients of their neurological complaints. Robert: “It might sound crazy, but the first few times driving home after treatment, I noticed something was happening in my brain."  

Holistic approach

Robert is not only pleased with the result of the treatment, but also with the way the Functional Neurology Institute works. "My professional specialist is very approachable, is willing to discuss everything and puts you at ease. I particularly like that they take a holistic approach. So many things are associated with the proper functioning of the brain that I think this is the only correct method. It is very different from mainstream medicine, where specialists isolate one specific part that they then examine. It is precisely the coherence between all aspects that sets the institute apart, and their thinking and approach are based on personalised treatment plans." 

Back to work

Robert’s future is looking bright again. Thanks to the treatment at the Functional Neurology Institute, Robert is now back at work as a pilot on a two-thirds basis. “As long as I make sure to get enough rest, and take the prescribed supplements, I’m fine. And by the way, my parents told me last week that I am back to being my old self again. And that's how I feel too.” Robert therefore advises fellow pilots and other cabin crew to take good care of themselves. “As soon as you experience any symptoms of aerotoxic syndrome, immediately take it seriously and notify your employer. It is important that you have a professional diagnosis done within the shortest possible time frame. The sooner you can start therapeutic treatment, the better it is.”   

* For privacy reasons, we have not used Robert's real name in this article.

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