Prosthetic arm helps pilot

Being the CEO of a business, a father of two and licensed pilot is a lot of responsibility for any one person to have and maintain well, but one Riverside resident does it all with assistance from his bionic arm.

Todd Schmidt is the CEO of Progressive Products Inc., a company based out of Riverside, that supplies mattress manufacturers with high-quality bedding products such as pillowcases and zippered bed covers.

“I started flying when I was 11 years old, and that is when I got the bug,” Schmidt said. “I had a lot of friends that were flying and I started to fly with some of them in the ’90s and 2000s. Then I just decided it was time to get my own license and airplane.”

Schmidt invested in his love for aviation for more than just entertainment; it is a valuable tool for his business, which employs more than 250 workers at a factory south of the border in Tijuana, Mexico.

“It allows me to fly to Brown Field Municipal Airport, which is just half of a mile north of the border,” Schmidt said. “So when I need to get to the plant it gets me there fast.”

Life came to a screeching halt two years ago though when he was involved in an accident with a friend while out driving his Polaris RZR900. Schmidt lost his left arm when the vehicle spun out and rolled over, landing him in the hospital for more than a month.

“The next day he was calling people, searching the Internet, looking for an arm and nothing was going to stop him,” said Jackie Schmidt, his wife of 29 years. “He did whatever it took to become whole again and he was determined to fly that airplane no matter what.”

Throughout the entirety of the process, faith was never lost and Schmidt said he believes it was a miracle that helped him and his friend, Kevin Andrews, reach emergency services after the accident and loss of his arm.

“During the accident, there had to have been some type of divine intervention because both my and Kevin’s phones were scattered in the dark,” Schmidt said. “When I did find my phone it was completely dead and submerged in bloody mud. I shook it off and tried turning it on and it fired right up.”

Through the support of his family, friends and faith, Schmidt made a quick recovery and was able to return to his office after managing his business from a hospital room within a few weeks of the incident.

“He was making phone calls, texting and really did not miss a beat,” Jackie said. “The company controller and I would go visit (Todd) every night and we would all discuss what happened that day (at the company) and what we were going to do the next day and did this for probably six months.”

He reacquired his energy to operate, despite all of the antibiotics prescribed, and mastered his new  prosthetic arm, a carbon fiber mechanism made by BeBionic, which gave him full use of both hands and allowed him to get back behind the yoke of his beloved 1975 Beechcraft Bonanza A36 “Betsy.”

In order to take away from the stress of flying a plane with the full use of only one arm, Schmidt opted to reconfigure the controls of his plane. With the help of his friend, Kevin, and instructor he was able to move everything into an easily accessible area on the panel.

“(The accident) definitely put a new perspective on my life,” Todd Schmidt said. “It has definitely taught me to spend more time away from the office, because time is the most precious commodity.”

About Randy Plavajka

Online Managing Editor

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