Derek Jensen always wanted to be in the armed forces.

He wanted to join the armed forces after watching his dad’s successful military career.

It was his dream.

And he made it quite far, joining the ROTC to grab a spot in the Air Force and being picked up as a pilot.

But the dream came to a halt when he was diagnosed with a rare eye condition called keratoconus, or KC for short, which causes distortion of the corneas, bad vision and, if left untreated, possible blindness in patients. Jensen has since been fighting to earn his spot back, going through a new therapy experience to find his way back into the air.

The keratoconus diagnosis came when he was at his flight certification, where the medical board diagnosed him with the condition. He had been noticing his vision was a little bit off when he worked on machines. So he called to see an eye doctor.

“I can’t see as good as I used to,” he told the doctor.

The doctor replied, “Well, I can tell you why. You’ve got keratoconus.”

“It’s a disease,” the doctor told him, according to Jensen.“It makes it so you can’t be a pilot. And it also makes it so you can’t even be in the Air Force.”

He could no longer become a pilot.

The diagnosis shocked him.

He was heartbroken.

“Everything was going great,” he said, but then it all changed.

“I wasn’t gonna be a pilot and probably not gonna be in the Air Force.”

Apprehension settled in almost immediately.

But the dream came back when a therapeutic treatment — approved by the Food and Drug Administration — came into the picture. Dr. Brock Hansen, an ophthalmologist who works at Utah Eye Centers in Bountiful and Ogden, has helped treat Jensen for his condition.

“He’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s keratoconus. Let’s fix it,’” Jensen said.

Part of fixing it included a process called cross-linking, which aims “to stiffen the cornea to slow or prevent further progression of the condition and preserve your vision,” according to Living with KC, a resource website for those with keratoconus. Hansen said the process will freeze your eye in its current state. So even though it’s not a cure, it can help stop future blindness.

Jensen was unsure if he wanted to go through with the surgery.

“I mean, internally it was a struggle to decide whether or not to go forward with the surgery because I’ve been chasing being in the Air Force my whole life,” he said.

Ultimately, it was his wife, he said, who told him to do it so that he wouldn’t lose his eyesight overall.

“It was more important for her that I maintain my quality of life, even if it meant getting kicked out of the Air Force,” he said.

His recovery has been going well since then, Hansen said. Jensen has made immense progress since he got the therapy and he is hoping to see more improvement in the future.

Hansen said Jensen’s vision is good enough to fly planes commercially with the Federal Aviation Administration. It’s unclear if the military will give him full approval though, he said.

But for Jensen, there’s still one piece of the puzzle missing — flying. He has applied to rejoin the Air Force, but a panel has to approve that measure. There’s a chance he’ll get kicked out of the Air Force and he might have to reapply.

Still, he is seeking a chance to fly as a civilian by working with the FAA.

“I’m just kind of waiting to be told yes or no,” Jensen said.