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United Flight 232 Hero Faces Brain Cancer With Courage

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Denny Fitch
October 14, 2010

Chicago -

Denny Fitch advocates for funding and research at Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute event

If music provides the soundtrack to our lives, then the indomitable spirit of Denny Fitch is best captured by the song “The Impossible Dream.” Some 20 years ago, Denny was able to call up enough faith, hope and determination to take the helm of United Flight 232 when all flight controls were lost. Denny, who, although a pilot by training, had been a passenger that day, steered the plane by throttles alone toward a safer landing in Sioux City, Iowa, and saved the lives of 184 of the 296 people on board. And it is this courageous will Denny and his family must shore up yet again as he conquers another difficult challenge: a glioblastoma diagnosis. Even in the face of brain cancer, Denny is once again volunteering to assist. He delivered the keynote address at last week’s Minds Matter gala to benefit the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute, and compelled attendees to join him in his fight against the disease.

“Awareness, word of mouth and research is what propels a lot of our advances, and it is so critical to the 20,000 people facing new diagnoses of this disease every year that we have patients like Denny advocating on our behalf,” said Jeffrey Raizer, MD, co-director of the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute.

Even in the wake of his glioblastoma diagnosis, Denny has continued his post-retirement passion of traveling the country as a motivational speaker. His attendance at the benefit allowed people a glimpse of the positive outlook he has greeted every day and inspired thousands with since his flight 232 heroism.

“Denny has lived every day since that plane crash like it could be his last, so when he received his glioblastoma diagnosis in January, he was able to use that reserve of appreciation and positivity and apply it to his battle with brain cancer,” said Ann Mellott, MD, medical oncologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “We always stress the importance of celebrating each day, and Denny has already been living his life by that principle.”

James Chandler, MD is Denny’s surgeon and the co-director of the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute. Like Mellott, Dr. Chandler sees the strength of Denny’s positive spirit and believes the degree to which patients are able to remain optimistic in the face of a diagnosis truly directs their overall health.

“As a general policy, I will tell patients who do not seem up for the challenge that they should come back and see me when they’re 100% on board with fighting the disease, because those with a positive attitude, like Denny, have the best outcomes,” said Chandler. “To be in his presence is truly a life-changing experience.”

Gala attendees agreed. Last week’s event raised more than $600,000 to support patient care programs and advances in research in the fight against brain cancer.

 View a video about Denny Fitch's fight against cancer at CBS>>

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Last UpdateJuly 6, 2011