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United Flight 232 Hero Faces Brain Cancer with Courage

More than $600,000 raised at NBTI "Minds Matter" event

October 2010

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, Fitch was able to call up faith, hope and determination to take the helm of United Flight 232 when all flight controls were lost. Although he is a pilot by training, Fitch had been a passenger that day. Steering the plane by throttles alone toward a safer landing in Sioux City, Iowa, he saved the lives of 184 of the 296 people on board.

It is this Courageeous will Fitch and his family must shore up yet again as he conquers another difficult challenge: a glioblastoma diagnosis. Even in the face of brain cancer, Fitch 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 (NBTI), inspiring attendees, including special guest, comedienne, television producer and former oncology nurse Bonnie Hunt, 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 NBTI.

In the wake of his glioblastoma diagnosis, Fitch has continued his post-retirement passion of traveling the country as a motivational speaker. Guests at the benefit witnessed first-hand the positive outlook and gratitude that has been part of his daily life since his heroism on Flight 232.

"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 Fitch's surgeon and Co-Director of the NBTI. He agrees with Mellott that remaining optimistic in the face of a diagnosis can positively impact a patient's health. "As a general policy, I tell patients who do not seem up for the challenge that they should come back and see me when they're 100% onboard 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 NBTI's fight against brain cancer.

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

(Last updated on June 21, 2013 )