Dr. David G. Simons is a true pioneer in every sense of the word. At 84-years-old he has accomplished more than most people could ever dream of and he isn't slowing down yet.
Though he is most commonly associated in the imaginations of the American people with his Aug. 20, 1957 ground breaking 32-hour balloon flight to a record breaking altitude of 102,000 feet, Simons prefers to discuss his pioneering research in the field of myofascial trigger points.
Reclining in a comfortable armchair in his Monticello Street home, Simons radiates a vitality more commonly seen is men 60 years younger. He is quick to flit from subject to subject, discussing with equal excitement his love of astronomy and his passion for promoting an understanding of how undiagnosed trigger points can lead to chronic pain in other parts of the body.
"When I did it, I didn't know I was making history. I was just doing it," said Simons of his solitary day-and-a-half flight into the earth's stratosphere. "I was excited by the opportunity to look at our atmosphere from the point of view that no one had been able to do before."
At the 50th anniversary of his "Man High II" flight in Crosby, Minn. later this week, Simons will be the guest of honor at the two-day celebration honoring his historic journey.
Never one to let an opportunity to discuss his trigger point research slip by, Simons persuaded organizers of the Man High reunion to include two symposiums on pain management taught by his wife Carol McMakin and himself in the weekend's events.
Though Simons' attitude as he describes his Man High flight is laid-back, a reading of his autobiographical account of the journey entitled "Man High" is anything but.
At several points during his balloon flight, Simons' life was in real danger. Once during the night his balloon came to rest directly above a thunderstorm which threatened to suck his balloon into it, later the next day dangerous levels of carbon dioxide began to fill the balloon's capsule and lastly during the balloon's final descent the capsule began to drop at a rate of speed which if continued would have resulted in a crash impact.
It was during these harrowing circumstances that Simons' background as a U.S. Air Force flight surgeon and his own calm intellect undoubtedly saved him from disaster. Whereas less cool-heads likely would have panicked under the same circumstances, forgetting all of their training, Simons' medical background helped him to analyze his body's physiological responses to his fear and to figure out what steps he needed to take to ensure his safety.
"When you have an emergency situation, don't panic, don't fear. That's counterproductive," advises Simons. "Fear is a very dangerous emotion. You've got to think through it."
Several weeks after his ground-breaking flight, Simon's self-portrait in his Man High spacesuit was featured on the cover of "Life" magazine with an accompanying first-person account of the experience.
Simons continued working for the Air Force as chief of flight medicine at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine in San Antonio, Texas until 1965 when he began a second career studying myofascial trigger points which quickly became his life's passion and obsession.
He has since authored several books on the subject and is in the process of compiling two earlier volumes on trigger points into a new edition which will include the latest research in the field.
"We are determined to finish it," said Simons of the book, adding that new developments in the field have lengthened the process.
According to his personal assistant Sharon Barker, Simons is in constant contact with doctors from all over the world, organizing them and connecting them with fellow health practitioners in the trigger point field through extensive e-mail correspondence.
In recent years, Simons has worked with Georgia States' physical therapy program, educating instructors on how to teach their students about recognizing the sources of chronic pain.
According to Simons, while the symptoms of chronic pain are treated, the source of the body's pain is frequently left undiagnosed, resulting in the pain returning again and again. By teaching young doctors and physical therapists how to recognize the origins of the pain, Simons and others in his field are hopeful that chronic pain - which has become widespread across the country - will one day seem as unthreatening and managed as polio.
"I've had a very full life," Simons said, adding that he was greatly enjoying his golden years. "It's a really wonderful time of life. You have a capability, a confidence to get things done."