Grand Forks Guardsman prepares for kidney transplant after rare diseaseIt started off as an almost unnoticeable set of symptoms, but it wasn’t long until a rare medical condition shut down Spc. John Chase’s kidneys and ended his days serving overseas for the North Dakota National Guard.
It started off as an almost unnoticeable set of symptoms, but it wasn’t long until a rare medical condition shut down Spc. John Chase’s kidneys and ended his days serving overseas for the North Dakota National Guard.
The Grand Forks resident was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan and returned home for a two-week break from duty in May. Chase and his wife, Becky, went to Orlando to take a vacation at Walt Disney World, and things seemed to be like normal.
Becky said her husband was always the “healthy one” in the family, and he had never had a major medical problem in his life. But there were some signs during the trip that something was wrong.
“While we were there, he said that he felt pregnant,” she said.
“My ankles were so swollen,” Chase said.
Chase, 44, was becoming bloated and realized something wasn’t quite right. Doctors in Florida figured he had some kind of a bug and started him on antibiotics.
“It never dawned on me,” he said. “I didn’t go back to the doctor for it because I felt better.”
But Chase didn’t fully recover from what he had assumed was a simple infection, and he was put on medical leave.
He was sick for about a month before he got a shocking diagnosis from doctors in Grand Forks — Chase had Goodpasture’s syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease triggered when his immune system began attacking Goodpasture antigens found in his kidneys and lungs.
The disease caused extensive damage to his kidneys — damage that made Chase bloated because the organs were no longer acting as a natural filter of his blood.
Friends and family members gathered Saturday at East Grand Forks’ American Legion for a benefit dinner and silent auction, raising money to help Chase and his wife cover medical costs from `his frequent dialysis treatments that will get him ready for a kidney transplant next year.
The disease has taken its toll on Chase and required him to change his lifestyle to accompany three days of dialysis each week at the Aurora Medical Park. During each treatment, he’s hooked up for four hours at a time while machines filter waste and toxins from his blood — the job that healthy kidneys would normally do.
He said he feels pretty good most of the time, and he’s still working at the armory two times a week. Chase said going through dialysis isn’t that bad — he usually tries to take a nap in the reclining, vibrating armchair he sits in during the treatment, or he watches TV and waits to be done.
“It’s like living a rich lifestyle when you go to dialysis,” he said. “They really take care of you.”
But he said he often feels “terrible” after the treatments, which leave him weakened and considerably lighter after all the toxins are removed from his blood. Chase, who weighs in at about 170 pounds, said he’s lost as much as 11 pounds of weight after a four-hour dialysis treatment.
“I’ve even had to have a friend almost carry me into the house after dialysis,” he said.
Still, Chase is optimistic about his treatment. Doctors expect him to go through one more year of dialysis to finish removing the antigens that are making him sick.
After that, Chase will no longer have the disease — and he’ll be ready to undergo a kidney transplant in Fargo that will return him to the healthy, normal lifestyle that he hasn’t had since May.
After the operation, Chase will go through a review process to see if he can continue to serve in the National Guard. He’s been in for almost six years, and served four years in the Marines in the late 1980s.
The disease means his days of being deployed overseas are over. But Chase said he’d like to stay in if the military gives him medical clearance after the transplant.
“This time next year I should be good to go,” he said.
For now, Chase can drink only up to 40 ounces of liquid per day and must carefully watch his diet, limiting his consumption of potassium, salt and many other things that could cause a bad reaction.
“I want to have seconds and thirds, and I can’t,” he said. “I’ve got to eat just a little bit and that’s about it.”
Doctors aren’t entirely sure what caused him to get Goodpasture’s syndrome. But Chase figures he was exposed to something while working with ammunition in Afghanistan that prompted the illness.
Exposure to certain chemicals is one possible cause of the disease.
“That would be my guess because I went over with a clean bill of health,” he said.
But Chase isn’t angry about the illness that has changed his life, and said the National Guard “has really taken care of me” over the past year.
“There are worse things that have happened to other people,” he said. “Most of the time, I don’t feel sorry for myself. It’s just those certain days when you don’t have good days.”
The Chases are accepting donations to help offset medical costs. If interested, donations can be made at the Citizens Community Credit Union located inside Wal-Mart.