insurance | employee benefits | financial services

Disability income protection: Recovery after a plane crash

Feb 10, 2020 | Customer Stories, Disability Income

Ken and Kathy Byrd experienced a remarkable journey of recovery after a plane crash that nearly took Ken’s life while he was flying his personal airplane.

They met as medical professionals at a Memphis, Tenn. hospital. They were dating before long, knowing very early they were meant for each other. They married, and Ken continued working as an OBGYN while Kathy grew her pediatric ophthalmology practice. The Byrds were a blended family. Ken had three children from a previous marriage who lived in Chicago. Within a few years of marriage, he and Kathy had two more children.

“We had five kids and it was a busy, crazy, hectic, wonderful life,” Kathy reminisces.

A committed dad, Ken routinely drove 10 hours each way to visit his children in Chicago, but he began considering ways to decrease his travel time. He had previous flight experience from serving in the Air Force, so he decided to learn to fly a personal airplane. After two months of training he had his pilot’s license and soon after his first individual aircraft.

In 2012, Ken and Kathy’s oldest daughter was preparing to move to Boston for graduate school. Ken flew her to Boston to help her move and get settled into her new home. When he was ready to fly home, Hurricane Isaac was in full force in the southeast region. Ken altered his typical flight path, convinced he could easily fly around the storm.

Ken’s plane ran out of fuel and crashed in the woods near Tillatoba, Mississippi. The sheriff’s department and volunteers searched for Ken until they were forced to call off the search due to dangerous weather and low visibility. The next morning, the plane’s wreckage was spotted deep in the woods, and Ken was discovered barely alive.

“The rescuers were super careful getting him out, for which I’m eternally grateful,” Kathy said. “It turns out Ken had two fractured vertebra and one wrong move would have left him paralyzed for life.”

Ken was cut out of the plane’s wreckage, intubated with a breathing tube and flown to the Regional One Health hospital and trauma center in Memphis. He was in kidney failure, had 28 broken bones, the right side of his skull was crushed and he had a collapsed lung. Piece by piece, the doctors put him back together. Eventually, he was well enough to leave the hospital and move to a facility to begin his plane crash rehabilitation.

“I was in so much pain,” recalls Ken. “All I remember is when Kathy came to visit me, that was the happiest time of the day.”

After extensive rehab, Ken moved back home to finish recovery as a plane crash survivor. But it was clear he would never practice medicine again.

During the ordeal, Kathy had a long list of worries about all things financial. While she was in the process of sorting things out, Ken’s office manager said, “I think Ken has a disability insurance policy. We need to call Bob Brown.”

Bob Brown, of UCL Financial Group in Memphis, worked with the Byrds years earlier on their insurance. Bob said, “When I received Kathy’s call, quite frankly, I thought it was going to be a life claim. Learning it would be a different kind of claim, I knew we’d done our job. I reassured Kathy that the income protection is in place, now it’s just time for it to execute.”

Ken wasn’t convinced of the value of disability income protection at first. “I thought I’d never need it,” he said. But Bob persuaded Ken having a disability income policy was a good business decision, and the policy was put in place soon after they met.

“We had both worked really hard with productive careers to ensure that we would get to retire and have a nice future together,” Kathy explained. “Having a disability policy made night and day difference about what the rest of our life looked like.”

Today, the Byrds are living their life together like they always imagined. A year after Ken’s accident, the couple made a five-year plan for Kathy to retire. During those five years, Ken recovered to his normal, active lifestyle of bike riding, kayaking and playing with his grandchildren and dogs. Kathy retired, and the Byrds moved to South Carolina to be closer to family and the coast.

Bob is thrilled the disability income protection insurance changed the outcome for his friends. “They’ve modified and adapted to the circumstances they found themselves in,” Bob said. “The planning we did enabled them to do that. If they want to say it’s because of something I did, I’d say it’s not what I did by myself; it’s what we did as a company, and it’s what we do as an industry. I’m delighted Ken and Kathy can live their lives the way they want to and on their terms. I’m inspired by their story of shared commitment.”

Knowing how different their lives could have turned out, the Byrds are eternally grateful to everyone who helped change their outcome for the better: the rescue teams who found Ken, the medical professionals who helped him recover, Bob Brown who helped them make a great financial decision and the Ameritas disability insurance team who fulfilled the promise of the policy.

“My life is fulfilling waking up every morning, being grateful for all that I have in this beautiful place with our wonderful family,” said Kathy.

Ameritas is committed to fulfilling our promises when our customers need us most. We’re so proud to have a role in this miraculous story with Ken and Kathy Byrd.