Jeff Gilton, Principle Software Engineer for engine controls at GE Aviation, continues to defy seemingly insurmountable odds, both personally and professionally. He’s been through a lot of “firsts” and to Jeff, attending corporate training from his bed was no different.

He was diagnosed at just six months of age with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a genetic motor neuron disease that ultimately took his younger sister at age sixteen. Although his parents were told he wouldn’t live past age two, Jeff, now 60 years old, continues to plow through all boundaries. This year is no different as he celebrates 38 years with GE Aviation!

Despite the bleak diagnosis, Jeff was determined to forge ahead. He acquired his driver’s license, attended college and then began his career at GE Aviation in the summer of 1979, long before the term “digital industrial” existed. Before being bedridden, Jeff started as any other employee, walking around the Evendale, Ohio, campus until 1989. It was then his body started to experience more SMA symptoms. He required the support of a motorized scooter and as the disease progressed, he was eventually forced to work from home in 1995. By 2004, he needed a ventilator and was robbed of his ability to speak, but that hasn’t silenced him.

Jeff has worked on almost every digital engine control designed by GE Aviation in Evendale. Despite being bedridden and unable to speak, he’s remained an important contributor to GE’s engine controls software development on engines such as the GEnx, LEAP, Passport, and currently T901. Jeff is also a founding member and champion for the People with Disabilities Network (PDN), part of GE’s affinity network for employees.

Despite his incredible work success, Jeff had never attended any training programs provided through GE’s Crotonville leadership institute…something his colleagues did frequently. The reason was simple — most of GE’s training required employees to attend in-person. Despite the lack of technology to support remote attendance, Jeff was determined to make it work. It started with an offer for him to “audit” or passively participate in a Technology Leader Development Class (TLDC), which is based around a team project and networking. It was the training class that would lead to yet another milestone for Jeff and for GE Aviation! 

“The experience of having Jeff fully participate in TLDC was a tremendous, eye-opening experience for me and the rest of the group,” said Ralph Elwell, GE Training & Development Leader. “Simple things that I took for granted became potential obstacles to Jeff’s experience. Jeff and I debriefed each day and he candidly shared what did and did not work that particular day. The experience was truly a MVP (minimally viable product) – and we all learned, failed and succeeded.”

Jeff’s manager, Scott Stacey, a senior embedded software manager, said their attitude was that GE Aviation is a digital industrial company, enabling them to ensure Jeff’s experience was seamless by using a laptop, cell phone and chat windows to communicate. “I believe the best experience is to be at the class in person, but I felt that this was an opportunity that Jeff deserved and we could make it happen … albeit an unconventional pilot,” Scott said. 

Throughout the training, other students were the eyes and ears for Jeff allowing him to attend virtually and participate in group discussions. To Jeff, the ability of his colleagues to collaborate, adapt and find a workable solution is just another of the many reasons he spent his entire career at GE Aviation.