Dave Cosner stands at a podium in front of a class at Texas State. The Austin native is a marketing major but today he’s here to deliver a motivational speech. Dave is tall, 6’4″, a former lacrosse player. The girls in attendance think he’s cute. Dave begins, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.” He’ll go on to eloquently discuss the importance of family and how the little things in life actually turn out to be the big things. Dave seems so composed. But if you listen closely, Dave’s breathing belies something amiss just under the surface. The way he takes air into his lungs between sentences is slightly labored, it seems to take just a split second longer than it would you or I…and as well it should.
Less than a week before his speech, Dave was released from his 135th lung surgery. Six years ago, on his 17th birthday, Dave was diagnosed with a rare form of vasculitis known as Wegener’s Granulomatosis. In two short months, Dave went from a healthy 190 lb. lacrosse player to a 145 lb. skeleton fighting for his life.
In the years since he acquired the chronic vascular disorder, he has endured 4 rounds of chemotherapy, learned to walk 3 times, and barely escaped from 2 comas. Dealing with such adversity teaches you valuable lessons about how precious each moment in life truly is. It’s the sort of early-acquired wisdom he now shares with a rapt audience at Texas State. Dave fights to take in every breath of sweet oxygen his lungs will accept. Dave Cosner is a survivor.
Wegener’s Granulomatosis is about as rare as it gets. About 1 / 400,000 suffer from it. It causes inflammation of blood vessels, which restricts blood flow to various organs. Kidney failure is common, although in Dave’s case Wegener’s seems particularly interested in destroying his lungs. Three times a day, he uses a special nebulizer with a bronchodilator to open up his lungs. It’s a temporary fix, and lung surgeries are frequent. 135 times a doctor has had to physically balloon open Dave’s lungs to allow oxygen to reach the lobes. He’s prone to lung infections, and twice the infection has forced him into a coma. The first coma put him down for 9 days – his last, 14 days.
It’s a little known fact that when you’re in a coma, you’re not fed very much. The doctors would prefer to have your body using its energy to fight infection rather than for digestion. The body eats its own muscles for energy. Along with the dramatic weight loss Dave encounters when/if he wakes up, his muscles have atrophied so badly that Dave must also learn to walk again. There is no known cure for Wegener’s Granulomatosis, and there are so few support groups for the disorder that, in the entire state of Texas, the help line according to Dave is “My mom’s home phone.”
Basically, this disorder is a world-class asshole.
Last week, I flew from Los Angeles to Austin, TX to meet Dave and see what Chive Charities could do to help. Dave showed up with his 19 year-old brother, Dylan, and we hung out for the afternoon. Dave carries himself with a sort of refreshing humor. Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but think that I’m watching this amazing kid slowly suffocate and he’s smiling and cracking jokes? I remember breathing through a straw once at McDonald’s and I didn’t think it was funny at all.
I ask Dave if there a good days and bad days:
“The mornings are the worst. When you sleep, your breathing is shallow. When I wake up and take that first deep breath, I can feel every inch of my lungs expand. It’s a unique kind of pain. It gets better as the day goes on. I use a finger pulse oximeter to measure the amount of oxygen making its way into my lungs throughout the day.”
I ask Dave what, aside from the obvious pain, is the most troubling aspect of the disorder? Dave doesn’t hesitate. He talks about the immense sacrifice his parents have braved to help him. Dave’s parents are retirement age. Both are now forced to continue working through retirement to maintain their health benefits. Dave speaks about his parents with reverence, you can tell they’re his rock.
But his parents’ insurance isn’t enough. Dave is on such a heavy cocktail of medications, the co-pays and additional medical costs add up quickly. How quickly I ask? Angie Cone, Chive Charities‘ Community Manager places a stack of papers in front of me detailing every medication Dave has taken over the past 3 years. It’s nearly 40 pages thick. I thank them for the summer reading.
We hash out Dave’s immediate needs. Dave shows me his nebulizer and finger pulse oximeter the two most valuable instruments he owns. Both are in need of an immediate upgrade. His medical bill co-pays continue to soar, placing a huge strain on the family. We can help ease Dave’s pain.
We set up theCHIVE Fund to support the orphaned causes of the world. Wegener’s Granulomatosis is the orphan’s orphan. I told Dave we would be granting him $25,000 on behalf of all the amazing Chivers who donate to theCHIVE Fund. He was speechless.
theCHIVERS who make the monthly donation to theCHIVE Fund have enabled us to do much good lately. From the Stein Family, the Oklahoma City Tornados, to the Colorado Wildfire Emergency Relief, and now David. The Chive Fund donors have added a crucial layer of versatility to the Chive Charity arsenal, one of speed. It allows me to sit at a table with a young man who needs help right now, and call a play. I can’t thank you enough for that.
Meet David …