We arrive in Iceland at 9pm in pouring rain. Despite that, when we enter the general aviation terminal we are overwhelmed: 10 people with MS, family members, and journalists are waiting for us! The are so excited … it is quite emotional.
I finally meet Berglind, the CEO of the Icelandic MS society, and the one who organized our visit there. She tells me how one lady with MS could not come this late: she is 84, and had her hair done just to meet us! That makes us feel even worse about not having been able to get there earlier. We also have to postpone th flights for the next day due to the weather.
But everybody is so happy! Happy just because we were there …
The following day, we head to the airport and the first 5 people with MS that wanted to fly with us arrive. One, a 73 year old lady hands me a piece of paper: it was a copy of her pilot license. She got it in 1965, before I was even born she says, and stopped flying due to her MS in 1973. But she was so eager to fly. We obviously tell her she will sit at the controls.
The weather was not very good this morning either. Winds were 30kts (35 mph, 56 km/h) with gusts up to 44 kts. Keith decides to fly first by himself to see whether it is too bumpy. I was concerned we may not be able to do the flights after all. However, the winds die down a little bit, and there is an opening in the clouds just above the airport.
We are able to only do a short “pattern” or flight around the airport, first on the left, and then as the clouds moved on the other side or the airport, on the right. But those 15 minutes proved more than enough for the 9 people that flew with us.
Next, we are invited for lunch at the MS center, where we meet more people happy we came to Iceland.
Berglind tells us about the society, it activities and members, and gives us a tour of the center. We soon realize that Iceland is probably the best example in terms of its MS organization and the support it provides those with MS.
The center provides not only physical therapy, medical, and social care, but also things such as art therapy which enhance the mental health of those living with MS. The impact of MS on people’s mental health is often poorly understood and ignored even among medical professionals.
After a few hours at the MS Center, we head to the airport. We are very impressed by both the extremely warm welcome we received as well as the organization of the MS society.