In the summer of 2015 Dan received what he calls his “two weeks notice.” He was slowly starving to death. His body was in a catabolic state, literally digesting itself to stay alive. And he was told he had about two weeks to live if he wasn’t placed on a feeding tube. Dan suffers from a rare condition known as gastroparesis, which is a paralysis of the stomach. He also suffers from exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (“EPI”), another rare condition, resulting in the inability to digest food properly. These conditions were slowly killing him. Dan fought back, continued to work and to live his life. He is not just surviving. He is thriving. His story is one of determination and faith, grounded in the power that comes from living your life to love and serve those around you.
Dan can’t eat and now subsists on a feeding tube and infusion pump, which drip feeds specially-prescribed formula through a port surgically placed in his small intestines, completely bypassing his dysfunctional stomach. He is on a host of medications, including artificial digestive enzymes to break down the nutrients in his formula, because his body has difficulty digesting and absorbing even the formula. But, despite these and other challenges, he is happy and productive. Dan says, “Like Paul, ‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.'” (Philippians 4:11.)
Suffering these sort of challenges is not new for Dan, who has experienced a lot of pain in his life. As a little kid, he fell out of a station wagon on a major traffic artery and was hit by another vehicle, sustaining head injuries. He nearly drowned as a child, falling in to the deep end of a swimming pool when he was in diapers. He’s been in several serious car accidents, two where the vehicles he was traveling in were totaled. In one of them, where he was hit head-on by a double trailer semi on the interstate, he bit completely through his tongue and had his knee lodged in the ignition box with major lacerations and nerve damage. He’s had fractured vertebrae. He’s had multiple rib fractures on multiple occasions. He’s passed kidney stones on many occasions. He’s been hospitalized for anaphylactic shock. He’s had his thumb torn from its socket and separated shoulders. He’s had blood clots that had to be surgically removed. He crushed his hand between a van and a trailer, requiring surgical reconstruction of his hand. He’s torn tendons and ligaments. He’s had multiple concussions and been knocked unconscious multiple times. He’s had pneumonia more times than he can remember and bronchitis more times than that. He suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (“COPD”). He knows what it’s like to be unable to breath. His lungs have been plagued with scar tissue. He has been in and out of the hospital more times than he can recall, including the Mayo Clinic.
He’s had four abdominal surgeries. He’s had his stomach and esophagus rebuilt twice. He’s broken both arms and both hands. He’s broken teeth. He’s had abscessed teeth. Most recently, he lost 90 lbs. in less than six months, suffered from malnutrition and nearly starved to death. He suffers from chronic pain and nerve damage. Due to his weight loss and malnutrition, he has scoliosis, degenerative disc disease, Scheuermann’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, and trigeminal neuralgia, all of which cause terrible nerve pain and spasms. He has a diseased liver. As mentioned, his pancreas doesn’t work. In addition to his gastroparesis and EPI, his large bowels are partially paralyzed, as well. Dan jokes, “I hate my guts!”
Before he was on the feeding tube, his gastroparesis and EPI made it so that almost nothing he ate was properly digested or nutritionally absorbed. He obtained little or no nutritional value from food. He would eat, but the food would just sit there in his stomach and wouldn’t move through his digestive system. Because of his prior esophageal surgeries, it was mechanically impossible for him to vomit, causing him to get extremely nauseous. Dan describes it as that feeling you get when you have the stomach flu or food poisoning, except there was no relief obtained from vomiting.
Eventually, gravity would take the food through his system, but it moved so slowly that bacterial infections would develop called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or “SIBO.” SIBO infections occur when billions and billions of bacteria from the lower bowel migrate into the small intestines and stomach. Dan says, “The pain is incredible. It feels like someone has put an air compressor in your back end and turned it on full blast. I would be doubled over in pain with cramps, cold sweats and nausea.”
Dan says, “I know there are people who have had it worse. I’m not writing all of this to invoke sympathy, pity or to engage in comparative suffering. I’m writing this to let you know that, despite my challenges and the pain I have suffered, I am a very happy person. I feel blessed to be alive. Although there are limitations on what I can do, I find joy and peace almost every day of my life. My life has a purpose. My greatest frustration is that my ability to feel love exceeds my capacity to show it.”
Dan’s day job is being a lawyer. He is happily married to his high-school sweetheart. The two of them have been married for twenty-five years. Together, they have 6 children, one of whom now lives with God. Dan has published articles on various legal topics throughout his career. He is also a former journalist. He has degrees in sociology and human resource development along with his juris doctorate degree. He is a voracious reader, and loves skiing, fishing, hiking and backpacking in the mountains. He loves to write and speak about the things that matter most to him.
Update: I can eat again!