April 6th, 2013
One year ago today, I was working in the yard with Christine. It was a Saturday and Mason had gone to a training class for teaching swim lessons at the pool. When he got back home he went straight inside and lay on the couch with severe abdominal pains. This was not his normal behavior.
He had started hurting during the night Thursday night, but we wrote it off as gas and gave him some Tums. When he got home from school on Friday he was still hurting, so we switched our prognosis to constipation and gave him some milk of magnesia. In the following days, Christine and I both came to the conclusion that our names had been permanently removed from the Parents of the Year ballot.
On Saturday, when Christine went inside and found Mason on the couch, she decided to take him to the after hours clinic close by. About an hour later she called to say she was on her way to the hospital for a CT scan. Seriously? For a stomach ache? I closed up the house, put on some cleaner clothes and hauled ass to the hospital. When I arrived I could tell he was in serious pain.
They took him for his CT scan and after what seemed like an eternity, he was back in one of the emergency room beds. And then the doctor mentioned the word: Crohn’s. I halfway listened to what he said and after he left I broke out my phone searching for the symptom’s of Crohn’s. Nausea and vomiting….nope. Severe diarrhea….nope. Abdominal pain…….okay, that’s only one out of three. No way it is Crohn’s. But they admitted him anyway.
April 9th, 2013
Over the next few days, he spent time in the princess room of the pediatric ward (he was still 17) and was poked and prodded while they were ruling out other things. And then he had an upper GI and a colonoscopy done. Wow. There are few words to describe what his intestines looked like.
He had a 3 cm abscess in his small intestine and enough inflammation polyps that I have no idea how any nutrition was getting into his system. It was scary looking.
After we talked with the doctor, we went back to the room with Mason. We told him that he did have Crohn’s. He was quiet for a bit with a tear in his eyes and then he asked the question we knew he was thinking, “Can I still swim?” The answer: “Yes!” Not only that, but the doctor said he had been swimming tired because his body was only absorbing a small portion of the calories he was eating. She said he has had it for quite a while which just shows how tough he is.
From that point on, he handled it better than any adult I know would have. He accepted it as something he could not change and moved on. The discipline gained from years of competitive swimming made this just another obstacle to overcome. And he would overcome it.
April 14th, 2013
After 8 very long days and nights in the hospital, he finally went home! The only problem was that he was now about 17 pounds lighter and pretty low on energy. He was on a very strict low residue diet, so finding foods he could eat was a challenge. But Christine handled that challenge with a whole new diet and eating regime. He was definitely ready to get back to a routine even though it was vastly different than before.
April 15th, 2013
The very next day, he was up at 3:45 AM to go to drylands at swim. We had an earlier meeting with his coach, Jayme, and he was going to monitor him and make sure he didn’t push too hard. And over the next week or so, Jayme had to make Mason get out of the pool a time or two so he didn’t hurt himself.
That night, he was awarded the Honesty & Integrity Award from Trinity Union #372 Masonic Lodge. It was amazing that one day earlier he was in the hospital, and now he had been to 2 swim practices, school and an awards ceremony. One tough kid. The clothes conceal it, but you can almost see how thin he was at that time.
April 20th, 2013
Six days after leaving the hospital he went to his Saturday practice where they did a 5000 meter swim for time. That is 3.1 miles for the metrically challenged folks out there. I am not sure where he got the energy or whether he was swimming on pure adrenaline and hardheadedness, but he swam it in 1 hour, 4 minutes and 57 seconds. That is fast even without being sick! And that is when I knew that this disease would never be an excuse for him.
June 14th, 2013
One interesting thing we learned in this whole ordeal concerning vaccines is that they wear off! Besides a total diet change, his primary medicine was going to be a chemo type drug called Remicade. This medicine suppresses the immune system, so the doctors had to make sure all his immunizations were up to date. Unfortunately, his Hepatitis-B vaccine had worn off and it took 2 boosters to get it back going. This delayed his first real treatment by 2 months, but he finally got it going!
The treatment entails him being hooked up to an IV for about 4 hours while they pump the wonder drug in his veins. Because he was still 17, they handled it in the pediatric ward of the hospital where he got to stay with Buzz Lightyear, Sponge Bob, and numerous princesses and fairies. And when the staff knew he was coming, they would order extra food just for him! (He did look like a giant in that child’s bed.)
July 12th, 2013
Barely 3 months after being diagnosed, he swam in the Louisiana Long Course State Championship followed closely by the Speedo Sectional Meet in Orlando. We really did not know what to expect because he had only had one treatment. But he had been working his ass off to get back into shape and had high expectations.
He had a great state meet achieving personal bests in all 5 of his events and defending his 200 fly title for the 4th time! He was also part of the state record breaking 400 medley relay team which made a Junior National Time! Not a bad summer of racing after the rough start to long course season.
November 7th, 2013
Seven months after wondering if he would be able to swim at all, Mason did something that I never would have imagined only a few years ago. He signed to swim for a Division 1 college swim team, the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs! Christine and I were able to visit the school with him and not only is it an amazing school, but the swim team is a big family just like he has now at Crawfish Aquatics. It would be hard to imagine another place where he fit so well.
Of course, the downside is that it is in North Carolina and about an eleven hour drive away! But I still have about 4 months with him, so I will leave that tear riddled post until later.
February 23rd, 2014
In February, he swam his last short course state for Crawfish Aquatics. And he did it with style winning the 200 fly for the 5th time and having a breakthrough race in the 400 IM as well. It was a bittersweet meet because so many things are coming to an end while others are just beginning.
Only a short while after this meet, one of Mason’s biggest competitors and best friends gave him some news. Andrew and Mason have been fighting each other tooth and nail in the water for years racing in every event possible including who can get dressed the slowest after the meet. They often joke that the only person they want to lose to is the other one.
The news was that Andrew is going to be a Runnin’ Bulldog too! Only 2 years ago they talked about going to swim for the same college and now it is happening. The odds of that are so slim it is ridiculous. Definitely some divine intervention at play in their futures. And judging from the other recruits in their class at Gardner-Webb……….they are going to be scary fast!
April 6th, 2014
It’s been one year since that trip to the after hours clinic changed Mason’s life forever. To say that I am proud of how he has handled himself would be an understatement. We do not discuss Crohn’s very much in the house because Mason does not dwell on it. It only comes up when he has a doctor’s appointment or if there is some question about a food choice. Other than that, it is just a very small part of who he is.
He went to his last prom last night. And all the seniors are counting down the dwindling days of school they have left. With these remaining days of school and the long course season this summer, he still has some goals he wants to achieve. And then he will be on to a new phase of his life.
But I can safely say that after seeing the character he has exhibited throughout this ordeal, with seeing the perseverance, dedication and resilience to fight through these obstacles, and seeing the love he has for his family, friends and the sport of swimming, may God have mercy on anyone who stands in his way. Because he will prevail.