After dropping 66 pounds, she is flying high

IU Health nurse wants to celebrate her 60th birthday by getting her pilot’s license.

Alice Ramsey wants to be sky high on her 60th
birthday. Three thousand feet above ground, to be exact.

Ramsey, who lives in Terre Haute and works from home as an IU Health utilization management nurse, is taking flying lessons and hopes to get her pilot’s license by the time she turns 60 in October.

But before she could make that birthday wish come true, she decided she needed to lose weight. At 5 feet, 2 ½ inches and 205 pounds, she said, “I was a pretty big girl.”

Her husband, Rick, is a former pilot. He earned an aeronautics degree and flew jets for the Air National Guard in the 1980s. He doesn’t fly anymore, but she got to thinking maybe she could – if she could get healthier.

Ramsey went on a tour of Terre Haute in a small plane early last year “just to see if I could stand being in one of those little planes,” she said. It was uncomfortable, to put it mildly.

“I was so big and I’m sitting in this little two-seater plane and I felt like the plane had to be wrapped around me. I knew I couldn’t pass a flight physical because I was on three blood pressure medications. I knew that wasn’t gonna fly.”

Ramsey had already sought out information on the bariatrics program at IU Health. She met with Dr. Jennifer Choi in late 2017 and had gastric bypass surgery at IU Health North Hospital in August 2018. (Roux-en-Y gastric bypass is a type of weight-loss surgery that involves creating a small pouch from the stomach and connecting the newly created pouch directly to the small intestine.)

She has lost 66 pounds, weighing in at 139 earlier this month. And if that’s where she stops, she’s good with that number. “I feel good and that’s what matters. Nobody gave me a goal, so I’m just letting my body do what it wants to do.”

While her weight was certainly high, it was the high blood pressure that was the real problem, she said. “I was probably at a pretty high risk for stroke.”

The surgery went well, Ramsey said, but the recovery for her was difficult. She suffered nausea and vomiting for months and had to be hospitalized for dehydration. Eventually, Dr. Choi started her on an anti-depressant that caused her body to feel hunger again, she said.

Ramsey doesn’t sugar-coat the difficulties she faced, but she also doesn’t regret having the surgery.

“What I regret is that I lost four months of my life. She missed a trip to Maryland with her sisters and her youngest daughter’s 30th

“It was a bit depressing,” she said. “Dr. Choi was awesome though. She kept encouraging me and tried different things until we found something that worked.”

Ramsey tried to keep her eye on the prize – that pilot’s license – but admits she sometimes lost hope. “I thought I was going to be lying in bed, crying and throwing up the rest of my life.”

That’s why climbing into the Piper Warrior aircraft with her instructor and taking the controls feels so good today. How good?

“This is awesome,” she said. “It’s amazing to be up there and to be able to control a plane by yourself.” Sure, the thought of it terrified her at first, “but once I was up in the plane and the instructor let me take the controls and you see that you have control of the plane, it’s exciting.”

The hardest part of flying for her has been training her brain to fly with her feet.

“When you drive (a car), you use your hands on the steering wheel to get where you want to go. In flying, you use your feet … on the rudders. The ‘steering wheel’ is used only slightly to make turns and to pull up and lower the nose.”

Twice a week, she goes up, eager to improve her skills. She needs at least 40 hours of training before she can apply for a license. On Tuesday night, she sent some pictures and texted after she landed. It had been a particularly rough flight, she said.

“It was windy and bumpy and scary. LOL. I survived.”

At 3,000 feet, the winds were relatively calm, she said, but the plane was buffeted as she brought it in for the landing.

“I calmed down when we finally landed and I got my feet on the ground.”

Ramsey, who has three daughters and two grandchildren – with another grandchild due in June – said her family has been supportive of her flying lessons. They know she already has a destination in mind for her first true solo flight. She hopes to fly to Oklahoma City because that is where her daughter and son-in-law are moving – with her two grandkids.

“That’s part of my motivation.”

Ramsey has been with IU Health for 20 years. She worked as a bedside nurse and in the operating room at IU Health University Hospital and in interventional radiology and the MRI nursing unit at Riley Hospital for Children.

“Interventional radiology was my absolute favorite job bedside,” she said. “The kids at Riley are a joy to work with and I learned so much.”

She agreed to share her story of surgery and recovery to give others hope.

“People get so discouraged with this process. I put it out there to encourage people to identify your goal and go for it.”

Even if that goal takes you 3,000 feet in the air.

– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist