Glen George Freeland

Desperate to fly, he was denied a pilot’s licence due to two heart transplants. A year ago, after six appeals, he finally got his wish.

Illustration by Team Macho

Glen George Freeland was born on Dec. 7, 1973, in Fairview, Alta., to Vaida Allan, 16, and David Freeland, 18. On the night Glen was born, a mix of wet weather and a flash freeze coated the roads with ice, and his mom barely made it to hospital in time. “Glen was in such a hurry to be born,” says Vaida. “And he never stopped being in a hurry.”

When Glen was two, his parents separated and David, a labourer, moved to Edmonton, while Glen and Vaida stayed in Peace River, near her parents. When Glen was a baby, he loved pickles, exploring, and making people laugh. Vaida couldn’t open the back door without Glen crawling out, and making for the nearest mud puddle. He was the class clown and made friends easily, but his best friend was Brian Freelend (sic), one of his three “double cousins”—the children of Vaida’s sister, Trish, and David’s brother, Bob, who had also married. Vaida remarried and had two more children, 10 and 12 years Glen’s junior, but he remained closest to Brian, who was just 1½ years younger than him. When they were kids, they loved building elaborate tree forts—which they would then knock down and rebuild. “Glen never stuck with one thing for very long,” says Brian. “He was always coming up with new ideas.” He and Brian came up with all kinds of outlandish business schemes to line their pockets, and Glen bought his first snowmobile when he was 16, months before he bought a car.

That year, he began to have trouble running, and within weeks, any activity left him short of breath. He was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease that deteriorates the muscles of the heart. He and Vaida saw a specialist in Toronto, where he was put on a wait list for a new heart, and fitted with a pacemaker. The first thing Glen did on leaving the hospital was to begin leaping over planters along Yonge Street. “He never let his illness slow him down,” says Vaida.

When he was 19, his heart began to fail rapidly. The available heart wasn’t a good fit (the donor had been older), but he needed it: he’d had severe muscle loss, and low blood circulation was causing sudden dizziness, so he and his family agreed to the transplant.

After high school, Glen and Brian started their first real business in private garbage pickup in Peace River. During his rounds, Glen would often admire Kristen Lokseth, out on her morning run. Although they knew each other through mutual friends, it took him seven years to ask her out. On New Year’s Eve, 1999, they went on their first official date. By the end of the night, Kristen knew that it was the only one they’d need: they were destined for each other. In 2000, they married and had a daughter, Morgan. That same year, Glen’s new heart began to fail, but doctors had found another, stronger heart, and he underwent a second transplant.

Despite his health struggles, Glen was constantly pursing new projects, and launched dozens of businesses, including Fossil Communications, a telecommunications firm specializing in cell and radio reception in oil country. Despite his hectic schedule, Glen also found time to pursue his hobbies, often in the company of his large extended family. In 1996, he tried to obtain a pilot’s licence, but was rejected due to his heart. He reapplied, and appealed the decision six times over 14 years, distracting himself with his other love: boating. In 2007, he and Brian made a pact at a Peace River pub to compete in the World Jet Boat Marathon in New Zealand. Brian assumed the idea would be abandoned, but Glen entered the contest the next day; later that year, they won their division. In 2011, he took his fight for a pilot’s licence to a tribunal, arguing that he should be eligible to fly because his heart condition was so closely monitored by doctors. The tribunal agreed, and Glen celebrated by buying a Robson R-44II helicopter. He used it to commute to work, to quickly reach remote locations in the oil sands, and especially loved flying with daughter, Morgan, his “co-pilot,” by his side. In the spring of 2012, he and Kristen welcomed a baby boy, Simon, to the family. By then, they’d settled in Okotoks, Alta.

On Dec. 5, Glen was flying home to Okotoks. At 12:30 p.m., an emergency beacon was fired from the helicopter, signalling distress. Rescuers found the ruins of his helicopter roughly 12 km southwest of Slave Lake, where it appeared to have crashed into a hillside. Glen had died in the crash. He was 38.

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