Love of all things airpane helps young man cope with health issues

Under the watchful eye of Tony Lute, curator of the Veteran's Museum in the Oren Dunn Museum, 9-year-old Samuel Ryan Warrington mounts the wing onto his model airplane.

At the tender young age of 9, Samuel Ryan Warrington has already dealt with more serious health issues than most people face in their whole lives. Early on, the Blue Mountain resident was diagnosed with leukemia; after undergoing 40 months of treatment at the University of Alabama Children's of Alabama hospital, the cancer is in remission.

Also early on, Sam was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, an inherited disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs in the body. Through the administration of an arsenal of costly drugs and physical therapies, the lifelong disease can usually be kept at bay. To see Sam, you might think he’s just a normal, active 9-year-old. But, Sam has developed an interest in airplanes.

It all began, said his mother, Pam Warrington, when Sam began playing Minecraft, one of the world’s most popular computerized video games in which players build cities and other communities. According to Pam, that fostered in Sam a desire to build something with his hands. Model airplanes fit the need.

“I have a craft room at home where I build stuff out of paper towel rolls and cardboard,” said Sam, an only child. “Mostly airplanes.”

Enter Tony Lute, curator of Tupelo Veterans Museum housed in the Oren Dunn City Museum at Ballard Park. Lute has built model airplanes through the years, many of which hang from the museum’s ceilings. Sam wants to do the same thing at his home with the model airplane he and Lute are about to finish. Lute explained the large model is a generic, formerly flyable radio-controlled airplane, not based on any existing or past historic aircraft as many of Lute’s primarily World War II era models are.

Sam and Lute have been working on model airplanes, usually twice a month, for a little more than a year:

“I’m his half grandpa,” Lute joked. “I would like to fly airplanes, to be a pilot someday” Sam said. “I’ve flown in Contour (Airlines) at the airport. The pilot let me in the cockpit.” “We were the only ones on the plane,” Pam said of the flight to Nashville. She said Sam came by his interest in flying naturally. “His daddy (Ryan Warrington) wants to take flying lessons. Their dream is to fly together.”

Sam also enjoys the help of his full grandpa, Terry Williams. The Warrington penchant for aviation has pervaded the family home: “Our Christmas tree topper is an airplane,” said Pam. Sam pulled out a partially completed model of a World War II Japanese Zero fighter plane during a work session at the museum last Friday.

He explained the plane, so far a wingless fuselage, is made of cardboard. It will be the focus of his model building skills after the large model is finished – maybe within a few days – and hanging in his room at home. Pam said Sam’s extended cancer treatment regimen took its toll on the young fighter: “The chemotherapy caused a lot of anxiety,” she said. “He was diagnosed with (post-traumatic stress disorder).

“Building and focusing on something has been good for him.” When Sam is not building models, he attends third grade at Cornerstone Cottage School, a hybrid Christian school in Tupelo, where Pam teaches sixth grade. But last Friday afternoon, under Lute’s watchful eye, Sam busily mounted the wings on his model for the first time: “I just knew this was going to be good for Sam,” Pam said.

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