Dr. Sandy Saunders, despite being 94 and being aware he is dying of bladder and prostate cancer, recently put on his flying jacket, scarf and goggles to enjoy one final flight in a Tiger Moth for a BBC tribute.
His remarkable life is marked with extraordinary chapters such as multiple skin grafts by pioneering surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe to minimize and repair burns to 45 percent of his body in 1945.
Sandy was one of many patients in what was known as the ‘Guinea Pig Club,’ since the treatment was experimental. Even with their injuries patients were encouraged not to hide away but to mix publicly to reclaim their lives.
He led the campaign to raise £20,000 for a club memento at the National Arboretum, Staffs., unveiled in November by the Duke of Edinburgh.
“It brings it all back,” Sandy said as he readied himself for the flight. He wished he were youthful again.
He served with the army air corps during WWII as a radar officer before training as a glider pilot. His accident, which took the life of his navigator, occurred on September 25, 1945.
Twenty-eight operations were needed to treat hand and facial burns, and he can still clearly remember seeing his injuries reflected in the mirror for the first time in three months following the accident.
He paid tribute to the plastic surgeons who saved his life after the Tiger Moth training plane crashed near High Wycombe.
Sandy related how Dr. McIndoe didn’t frown on having a beer in the ward and had urged his patients to go out while being treated.
The Guinea Pig Club, set up in July 1941, was for patients at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, and West Sussex. Most club members had fought in the Battle of Britain, with aircrew from America, Eastern Europe, Canada and Australia. Comprising of 649 members, eight percent were from Australia and New Zealand respectively, 57 per cent were British and 27 per cent Canadian. Only 17 were still alive at the time of the memorial unveiling in November.
Sandy has three children, three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
His wife, Maggie, 74, said he has lived a full life. A person could never imagine now what he’s experienced, given all the surgery he had at such a young age. The accident happened when he was only 22. When Sandy saw his injuries for the first time, he went to the hospital’s roof to jump. He was saved by the thoughts of how suicide would affect his parents. He created the motto ‘Out of the flames came inspiration’ for the memorial to the Guinea Pig Club. Dr. McIndoe’s efforts inspired him to become a doctor and assist others. He continues to speak to plastic surgery patients and offer them hope, Mirror reported.
Sandy crossed the Atlantic on a six-man boat for his 80th birthday, skied until he was 85, and worked as a ‘trek doctor’ assisting teams to reach Everest base camp for numerous years when he was a general practitioner.