“This disease is so rare and so new that one of the lung specialists told us that if this had been just a couple of years ago, we would have been planning a funeral for our son.” – Stacy Cameron.
In an instant, your life can change. A little more than three weeks ago, 19-year-old Brody Cameron was leading the life of a lot young men on the prairies. Over his years growing up on the family farm outside Redvers, he'd played and coached baseball and basketball. He was an avid archer and worked part time at LLLB, the local convenience store. Last summer, Brody graduated from Redvers High and was working at a job he loved. This coming fall, Brody was looking forward to heading off to ACC in Brandon to take awelding and metal fabricationcourse.
On August 28, Brody felt as if he had some sort of a cold coming on. But it was anything but a simple virus.
By the next night, Brody could hardly breathe. As his parents, Ron and Stacy, were vacationing in Alberta with his three younger siblings, Brody made the wise decision to drive himself to the Moosomin Hospital.
“It was definitely an eye opener," Body said from his hospital bed in Regina late last week. "You can start off with a cough one day and the next day, you're coughing up blood like you're dying. So I knew that I had to get myself to a doctor."
After a quick consultation with the doctors in Moosomin, it was decided that Brody was in urgent need of the expertise of respiratory specialists in Regina.
"It was getting harder and harder to breathe," Brody said.
Brody's grandmother, Trudy Warren, came from Virden to make the trip with her quickly ailing grandson. From there, the rest of the story has to come from Brody's parents Ron and Stacy.
A CAT scan and numerous other tests soon brought the diagnosis of an extremely complex disease. Goodpasture Syndrome is a rare autoimmune disease. So rare in fact, that it strikes only one in four million people.
“Everyone is born with good and bad antibodies,” Brody’s mother Stacy explained. “The bad ones stay dormant and something, out of the blue, triggers your bad antibodies so then, instead of helping you, they attack the cells of your body.”
While the more common form of the disease generally attacks the kidneys first, in the rarest type, the antibodies attack the lungs, inflaming blood vessels, which then rupture, filling the lungs with blood. With the diagnosis complete, Brody’s father Ron said, treatment began immediately with heavy doses of antibiotics and steroids. While cancer has been ruled out, a low dose of a chemotherapy drug has also been added to the regimen to support the strengthening of the ‘good anti-bodies’.
The first while, Ron said were very touch and go for his son.
“In the first couple of weeks, a lot of the time Brody was heavily sedated,” he explained. “Because they sedated him that far in, he was on life support and a ventilator,” Ron said. So it really was really dodgy and critical for the first week.”
Still, the Cameron’s knew that their son could hear them because even while sedated, he’d react to their voices and squeezed their hands. At one point, when things seemed to be looking up, Brody was slowly brought around and could communicate with his parents using pen and paper.
"He was taken off the ventilator for a while and they put him on just nasal oxygen,” Ron said. “But he had a set back and his lungs started to hemorrhage again. So they had to reinstate the ventilator and put him back under again.”
In order to clear the attacking antibodies out of his system, Brody underwent a process called plasmapheresis.
“They take the blood out of his body and separate the plasma out because it's the plasma that holds the antibodies that are now attacking his system,” Stacy said. “They then input new plasma and new red blood cells and mix it in with his blood and put it back into his body.”
That treatment finished at the end of last week. Both Ron and Stacy - originally from Melita and whose maiden name is Warren – says the fact that the communication with all the doctors was fantastic made the entire situation much easier.
“The doctors have been absolutely amazing - it’s one full unit of a team that involves six to seven doctors as well as the nurses working on Brody,” Ron said.
The doctors met three times a week and each time; Ron and Stacy were included in the discussions.
“They sat in a semi-circle around us," Stacy said. “And as they worked through their problems and decisions on what needed to be done, we were at the front lines with the doctors. So we were hearing everything, and were and explaining whatever we needed to know, as they were talking to each other."
And that, Ron said, made a world of difference.
"If you are included in that way, your confidence is that much higher," he said. "We know that this disease is so rare but in the last few years, while it's not curable, it's manageable. And because we were in on these discussions with the doctors and nurses, it made it so much easier."
While everyone, including the doctors, expected that Brody would be in the hospital for at least another month, Brody was released at the beginning of this week.
"I know that everyone, including the doctors were surprised at the progress Brody made but I think the key was Brody went into the doctor in Moosomin as soon as he knew something was wrong," Ron said. "They told us if he'd waited another day, he may very well have drowned in his own blood."
Not that the fight is over. Brody will go back to see his kidney specialist as well as his respiratory doctors in Regina for quite a while. It will also take a while for the Cameron family to recover financially from more than a month of travelling back and forth to Regina. While the Cameron’s farm, they both have off farm jobs and their employers, they say, have been wonderful. Still though, the trips back and forth to Regina to care for the farm and their three other children have been an understandable drain on their bank account.
“We’ve had a wonderful network of family and friends who have been so supportive in everything from looking after the kids to daily phone calls to check up on Brody and his progress,” Stacy said.
A couple of Go Fund Me Pages have been set up to help the Cameron family. Stacy’s sister, Julie Bell from Winnipeg, has set up a Go Fund Me Page. You can easily access that page at gofundme.com/21dmrx0 (that’s a zero – not an ‘o’). Cory Popplestone, a friend of Brody’s biological father and half-brother, Jason and Rylan Scheirlinck, in the Boissevain area, set up another Go Fund Me Page. That site can be accessed by going to Cory’s Facebook site.
“I’m surprised with response because to be honest, I really wasn’t expecting much but I’m really thankful to all the people who have donated so far. It’s pretty amazing really.”
“There’s been a couple of my buddies that I went to school with who have given money and another friend has also given blood and being that the plasmapheresis treatments took so much blood, now I really understand the importance of giving blood on a regular basis. And I’d really like to stress that.”
For ease of access, accounts for donations have also been set up by friends at the CIBC in Redvers and at the Sunrise Credit Union in Stacy’s hometown of Melita.