Bainbridge native battles illness to achieve dreams

Published 5:04 pm Monday, July 3, 2017

For those who have ever wondered, “”Where are they now?” concerning former BHS students, the story of 1996 grad Preston Laslie and the life he has forged while serving in the U.S. Air Force, should be a source of great pride and joy as well as inspiration.

His love for the Air Force began at an early age when his father taught him to fly the family plane. From seventh grade on, Preston knew what he wanted to do.

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He attended Robert Monroe School before transferring to Bainbridge High School for his junior and senior years, primarily because they had an ROTC unit and he could also play soccer—his favorite sport. Today he says he is glad he made the move as his last two years of high school helped mold and better prepare him to believe he could move on and accomplish what he wanted. He is thankful for his heritage and Bainbridge connections and exclaims, “This community turns out a lot of good citizens.” He gives special credit to ROTC commander, Col. Gary Breedlove and his wife Patsy who helped groom and support him in every way.

As if turned out, moving on was not without great difficulty and obstacles.

He was accepted to attend the Air Force Academy and was living his dream, but when he had been there but two years he was diagnosed with Leukemia. The Air Force sent him to a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas, where he underwent treatment for 18 months, then came home for further recovery. He makes it clear that he received exceptional health care from the military where the doctors, nurses and staff all cared for him in a remarkable way. In fact, he was so well cared for that he changed his goals. He became interested in pursuing a career in medicine.

He originally went to the Academy to become a fighter pilot, but when he returned to the Academy to finish his last two years he no longer qualified for active duty because of his illness. He decided he would leave the Air Force and study medicine, but the Air Force had other plans. They asked him to stick around and go wherever he wanted to study and they would pay for it.

He chose to attend Georgetown University, where he specialized in family medicine, then he did a residency at Eglin Air Force Base in Western Florida and graduated with a specialty in surgical obstetrics.

He has definitely “stuck around,” as he has now spent 21 years, 13 of them active, in the U.S. Air Force, and has achieved the rank of Major, with a promotion to Lt. Col. pending in 2018.

Preston has served several terms of duty as a flight surgeon, spent two years with special operations in Guam, and has cared for flight crews and their families. He estimates he has delivered over 400 babies, which he declares is “the best part of medicine.”

He has just returned from one year in Korea, where he flew long missions with flight crews on an F-16 fighter plane. He described his duties as being varied in that capacity. He explained that usually they will not share their medical concerns freely in a clinical setting for fear of being grounded. He said it is worth it to spend that amount of time with the crew, get to know them personally and share their challenges. Then they are more likely to be open with their health concerns.

The most challenging and perhaps frightening situation for him is when hs isn’t sure his patient will make it. The plane is in the air. “There is no one else available to help. You are all alone and these are your friends. You have to maintain composure and do what is necessary.”

He was home for a short visit with his parents, Chuck and June Lashlie and brother Chuck and his wife Jessica and two sons, just before the 4th of July, and stopped by The Post Searchlight for the interview.

From here, Preston is headed to Cambridge, Mass. to enroll at Harvard for an Aerospace Medicine residency. He will complete a year at Harvard toward a master’s in public health and will finish up at Wright Patterson Air Base in Dayton, Ohio.  His ultimate goal is to become an aerospace medical specialist and go on to work in the prevention of disease in a region—all under the auspices of The U.S. Air Force.

Some of the other experiences he has had have been participating in healing missions conducted by the military. He went with an organization called Healing Peru in 2012, where he joined a team of 20 physicians, several dentists, nurses and other medical specialists treating over 2000 patients over a two-one-half week period. Many of the patients walk six to eight hours down out of the mountains to stand in line to seek medical aid. “It was a great experience that helps you believe in human nature,” he exclaims.

Preston says, “It has been a great adventure,” being in the Air Force. It has given him opportunities he never would have had. And he is still “sticking around.”