(CNN)Merilee Riely never imagined her dream would crash so quickly. Or that it could ever be born again.
Ever since her first discovery flight at Seattle's Boeing field in college, she had wanted to become a pilot. In April 1995, the then 25-year-old became the newest pilot for Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a commuter airline based in Georgia. She was still in her probation period when nine months later, after losing 20 pounds in two weeks, Riely was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Her budding flying career was over.
"That was the worst day of my life. I knew that that was the end," Riely, who now lives in Park City, Utah, told CNN. "At that time, it was an absolute definite. You're insulin-dependent -- you do not fly commercially."
For the next 22 years, Riely stepped away from aviation, even as her husband rose to become a captain at Delta Air Lines.
Flying for fun was too expensive, and she stopped believing long ago that the Federal Aviation Administration would ever change the regulations that barred pilots with insulin-treated diabetes from commercial cockpits, even as countries like Canada and the United Kingdom began allowing it.
'I didn't get my hopes up'
The FAA allowed pilots with diabetes to obtain third-class medical certificates, enabling them to fly privately and flight instruct. But the first- and second-class medical certificate required for commercial flying were strictly off-limits.
The FAA decided that pilots with diabetes who suffered from severe high or low blood sugar during a flight would endanger the passengers and the aircraft. And that remained its position for years. With advances in technology such as continuous glucose monitoring that allowed for more precise control of blood sugar, the FAA's position began to shift.
With rumors of big changes ahead, Riely began flight instructing a few year