Northern Ireland

Aer Lingus pilot forced to retire due to rare EDS illness

Richard Black was a pilot for 16 years before retiring on medical grounds
Richard Black was a pilot for 16 years before retiring on medical grounds

A FORMER Aer Lingus pilot forced to retire due to a rare illness has said he hopes to see "greater knowledge and understanding amongst doctors" of the condition.

Richard Black (38), who is originally from Bangor, was forced to retire after a 16-year career as an airline pilot due to the EDS condition, which he said took seven years to be diagnosed.

According to an Irish support group which aims to raise awareness, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is an inherited connective tissue disorder that affects approximately one in 5,000 people.

May marks the annual awareness month for the condition, which is caused by a defect in the make up of collagen which helps skin stay together.

Mr Black said there is a lack of understanding about the disease.

"To start with, I was having issues and my GP didn't know what was wrong. It is unknown and unrecognised; so no-one was joining the dots.

"A lot of people thought that it was just a problem with joints.

"It got to the stage where a number of doctors said it was in my head. They thought I was making it up."

Eventually, after receiving the diagnosis from a doctor in Dublin and travelling regularly to London for expert medical advice, Mr Black received the devastating news that he would not be able to fly again.

There are a number of seemingly unconnected symptoms of EDS, including joint and muscle pain, stomach pain and digestive problems, fatigue and nausea.

Amongst the problems currently suffered by the Co Down man is the effects of his brain pushing into his spinal cord, as well as nausea and tiredness.

"The problems became too much and I was medically retired. It got to the stage where my doctor told me that it was not possible to fly," he said.

"On the bad days you wouldn't be able to get out of bed.

"There is no overall cure and symptoms are treated individually. A number of people are paying privately to get work done in the US, where there may be treatment available for my neck problem."

Mr Black added: "I would like to see a greater knowledge and understanding amongst doctors. What we don't have here is any doctors with expertise in the subject. Hopefully people raise awareness so that we can get help."

For more information on EDS, please visit