Next week, Samual McCarter, 22, of Augusta, makes his return to the Augusta Technical College Aviation Training Center in Thomson and hits the home stretch.
McCarter, a three-time cancer survivor, had to delay his educational path last year to battle one type of cancer and then another.
He grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana, and moved south to study aviation maintenance in Thomson. He had family in the Augusta area and while in Indiana discovered the aviation maintenance program listed on the FAA website.
“My whole life was spent up there, up north. And then within the last three years I came down south,” McCarter said. “You probably couldn’t pay me enough to go back up north because of all the cold and the snow.”
The young man has held a long-time interest in aviation.
“I’ve always had an interest in aircraft and airplanes. I just didn’t know how to get into it so for the longest time it was just a dream, more of a hobby per se,” he said.
In fall of 2017 he began his course of study, which will lead to an associate degree in aviation maintenance.
“Then I had to take a year hiatus to deal with all the medical issues,” McCarter said. He had only a handful or classes remaining.
After he had a seizure, doctors discovered he had two brain tumors in February 2019. He had two astrocytomas in the brain.
“One was about the size of a golf ball on the side of my head and then there was a smaller one that we treated with radiation in Atlanta for about six weeks,” he said.
During treatments for the brain tumors, doctors found a tumor in McCarter’s leg in June.
“It was a recurrent tumor. I had previously had cancer when I was 7. I went 14 years in remission and then we found a tumor,” he said.
His best option for dealing with the leg tumor was amputation, from the hip down.
“So I ended up deciding to amputate because the precentage of necrosis was only 20 percent. The percentage of necrosis is how much the chemo affects the tumor and it was only 20 percent. They look for 90 percent when doing limb salvaging,” he said.
Despite all the challenges, McCarter has kept his sprits high and stayed focused on pursuing a career in aviation.
There was a brief break needed between cancer treatments for the brain cancers and the leg cancer. So, he completed one of his aviation classes and then resumed the cancer treatments.
“I had to finish up treatments on the brain first and then there had to be a break between chemo treatments. So I went back and finished up Props class while I was taking that break,” he said.
The break in the cancer battle was brief. He finished radiation in June, then started chemotherapy back in July.
His challenge now is to become accustomed to using his new leg.
“This has been a process in itself,” he said
After overcoming all the challenges, he is thankful for his supporters.
“I don’t know what really to say about it except I have a great support group — all my friends, all my family, the instructors here even, and God. That’s mainly who I thank,” McCarter said. “You can’t have two cancers at once and not think of a higher power to thank for surviving it. It’s just been a humbling experience all around.”
His aviation classmates were there for support as well. He was part of a small class of 12.
“Those guys helped me really get through it. After the brain surgery I couldn’t speak. I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t get it out,” he said. “They were over almost every day with card games and stuff like that and getting me to speak and read stuff and everything like that so they were a tremendous help.”
Prior to his cancer battles, McCarter’s love of aviation was evidenced by his typical day.
He put in 20 hour days. McCarter was in class daily for eight hours. That wrapped up at 4 p.m. then at 6 p.m. he arrived at work for Delta Airlines at the Augusta Airport. He worked until 2:30 a.m. handling baggage. Then he got up at 6:30 a.m. and got ready for class again. He also worked with StandardAero, at the airport in Augusta.
Upon his completion of his degree, he will study for his A&P, the Airframe and Powerplant license.
“When you’re working on airplanes, you can’t just stop on the side of the road and fix it,” he said. “You possibly affection 200 or 300 lives at a time.”
He would like to work line maintenence at a major airline in Atlanta. For now, he will start out small in business aviation and hopefully return to StandardAero in Augusta.
McCarter eventually would like to obtain his private pilot’s license and may need to find ways to adapt to manipulating the rudder pedals. But, he is motivated. Already, he is enjoying flying with a friend who is a graduate of the Augusta Tech program. He watches airplanes, and yearns for flight.
“Every time one takes off, I look up at the sky and wish I could do that,” he said.
McCarter said the hardest part of the past year and the cancer fight was missing school.
“You know that was probably the hardest part, to give up school,” he said. “I just truly enjoy what I do. It doesn’t even feel like school, I just come to work every day and play with airplanes,” he said.
For now, as he returns to the classroom only three classes remain — Ignition and Starting, Turbine II, and Reciprocating Engines II.
“He’s on the tail end. We’re so glad he’s back,” said Julie Langham, Augusta Tech dean of offsite campuses. “We’re so glad he’s back. He is the most dedicated student.”
“He is one of the best students we have ever had and one of the most determined students we have ever had, and that’s aside from what he’s gone through,” said Mike Lockaby, instructor and departmental chair.
The aviation school opened at the Thomson campus in August 2013. A new round of students are currently enrolling for the start of classes this fall.