Jeff Campbell was born in New York, but his family moved to Arizona when he was a teenager.
That’s where he learned to fly.
“My father pushed — in a good way — to succeed at different things, and one was pushing me to get my pilot’s license. He had put some money aside to do that.”
Jeff went to college, wanting to become a Navy pilot. But there was a problem.
“Unfortunately, my vision is not 20/20," he said. "All the military services require 20/20 uncorrected vision to fly.”
But Jeff learned more about the cockpit team for tactical fighters.
“There is a member of the air crew, a naval flight officer," he said. "Although you don’t get to be a pilot, you work the weapons system, the radar, deploy missiles; ... you also do the navigation and communications.
"A lot of people have seen the movie ‘Top Gun,’ and that’s the aircraft I used to fly in — the F-14, from 1982 to 1993.”
And that’s when his health issues began to appear.
“I started to decline physically — shortness of breath — and just not being able to do the things I normally could do. I was writing it off to age," he said. "I thought, ‘you’re getting older, getting out of shape.’ Certainly, there was some of that, but it was being accelerated. I went from being able to jog to I could only walk, and no matter how hard I was trying to get back into shape, I continued to decline.”
Jeff’s wife is an active duty Navy officer and have to move frequently, which brought the couple to Jacksonville. A few years ago, Jeff was working out at the Naval Air Station Jacksonville gym and almost passed out.
“They took me over to the emergency room, but couldn’t really identify anything until they put me under a stress test," he said. "Once they did that, they saw the (electrocardiogram), they saw the spikes. Basically, my heart was not firing properly, and ultimately, it was blockages. There were blood clots that had migrated to my pulmonary artery and into my lungs.”
Doctors inserted a metal filter in the return vein to his heart to guard against a clot in his legs traveling there. No one knows for certain what caused the clotting.
“It is often associated with aviation: pressure differentials, varying your altitude, especially in such a dynamic environment,” he said.
Jeff's health improved immediately.
“My wife has already got some plans for me," he said. "She’s done triathlons — all the way up to Ironman level — and has done very well. ... That’s still quite a ways down the road. I’m still recovering.”
He’s also deciding what opportunities he has next for work after his wife was assigned to the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, Mississippi.
“It is a challenge for any military spouse to hold any steady career," he said. "Wherever you relocate to, in some case, you have to start all over again.”