Editor’s Note: Healthy and Hopeful is a series of stories about Boone County residents who are working to overcome significant health challenges.
NELLIS — Kevin and Anita Perdue were living the life they chose, raising five children and focusing on family, church and working hard to maintain their lives as they experienced their late 40s.
Anita is employed by the Boone County Circuit Clerk’s office and Kevin was a career coal miner. They live in Nellis and attend Rumble Community Baptist Church.
Kevin had just worked the polls for the election in November and was walking when his chest began hurting so much that it took his breath away.
“I sat in my truck and I thought I was having a heart attack,” he said. “It was the first time I experienced that. I usually hunt the first week of gun season. I went out in the woods the first day. Usually the stand I have, I have no problem getting to it. I went to my knees three or four times and thought I was having a heart attack and the same pain came back. When I got home, I told Anita that I must be getting old — I thought I was gonna die trying to get to my stand. I took the next day off.”
After Thanksgiving dinner with his family, his wife turned to the internet and began researching his symptoms which, leading up to the recent events, also included fatigue and muscle cramping. His eyes and gums were discolored.
“I told her that I had something else to tell her,” Kevin added. “My feet were swollen, and they never did that. I showed her my feet and she told me that we were going to the emergency room.”
Already suffering from scleroderma, an auto-immune disease he’s had since he was a child, Kevin was prepared to find out what was causing him so much discomfort.
After labs were complete, the doctor gave Kevin and Anita an update.
“He said that all of my blood counts had bottomed out,” he said. “He told my wife that it was possible that I had Leukemia.”
Leukemia is cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system.
“Then I started getting blood and platelet transfusions and I had several before I was diagnosed.”
On Feb. 1, he was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia. SAA is a disease in which the bone marrow does not make enough blood cells for the body.
Kevin continued the transfusions until he entered an ATG treatment at the Cleveland Clinic. According to the clinic’s website, antithymocyte globulin (ATG) and cyclosporine are the drugs most frequently used to treat the disease, with a bone marrow transplant being another option for patients.
“We researched a lot before I was diagnosed and I kept coming back to aplastic anemia because the symptoms were exact,” he said. “The first bone marrow biopsy I had done in Charleston in December said it was clean and operating correctly. I was later in Morgantown and they mentioned aplastic anemia as a likelihood and before they could do another biopsy, I got a bad foot infection. When I was at the ER for that, they referred me to the Cleveland Clinic and I went straight there to Cleveland. My own bacteria on my skin had caused that infection because my blood counts were so low.”
The couple were in Cleveland and he was in the hospital for a month. They rented a temporary home near Cleveland to easily get to his weekly appointments.
The ATG treatments take six hours to complete over four days.
“I did fine with that until the last treatment and I ran a fever,” Kevin added. “They were about to release me but they kept me because of the fever. After a couple of days they released me to come home and the next morning I woke up with the worst headache I’ve ever had. It made me sick. I just closed my eyes closed tight it hurt so bad and I was vomiting. They put me under and I thought I was there a few hours but it was actually a few days. The ATG treatment had given me what they call a serum sickness. My body turned purple and the doctor told us it was the worst case he’d ever seen.”
It would take months for the color to fade from his skin. According to Kevin, it was his faith, his family, the community and his church family that carried him through the ordeal.
“I prayed every day and talked to God constantly,” he said. “The churches in the area, friends, family and neighbors were amazing. Ultimately, without Anita I couldn’t have survived this. I could only imagine how people who are alone can survive. People I didn’t know wanted to help us. We were overwhelmed.”
Kevin became emotional talking about the community support.
“The things people did for us was so much to even comprehend,” he added. “I get emotional just thinking about it and I do that every day. We didn’t need for anything. When we needed something, it was there.”
Today, he says, he feels about 90% of his former self. His blood counts are in the normal range and he’s been removed from the treatment medications.
“My doctor is always excited to give us the numbers,” he said. “I’ve only been off of the meds for a month and usually there would be a noticeable drop, but mine keep going up.”
Anita said faith and church have been the cornerstones of healing for Kevin.
“Hebrews 11:1 was our verse,” she said. “After Kevin’s diagnosis, our pastor prayed over the phone for Kevin. We had him on speaker and his nurse was in the room during this prayer. She leaves and comes back in crying. She said I never do what the Lord asks me to do but you were on my mind last night and I believe that God wants me to share this with you. She reads him scripture from Psalms 28 about strength and then says, you’ve got this and gives two thumbs up and then gives Kevin a hug. We experienced many moments like this while we were there. It was like the Lord was letting us know that He was there with us and to trust in Him. We then started letting go of our fears of the unknown and the ‘what ifs’ that you always think about.”
Anita said she was overwhelmed by the kindness of her work family at the Boone County Courthouse and beyond.
“My coworkers were giving up their sick days for me so I could be with Kevin,” she said. “They can’t even imagine what that meant to our family financially. I can’t put into words what every single gesture meant to us. We are so thankful.”
Anita said that, in retrospect, she’s glad they noticed and acknowledged the changes in Kevin early on, and they encourage others to pay attention to their bodies.
“I had noticed that he was losing weight and his color was off,” she said. “His energy was not what it had always been and he was so achy and was cramping. In the back of my mind, I was wondering. Is this what cancer looks like? Things just go through your head.”
Anita said she is thankful for what her family has today.
“We are beyond blessed and we cherish every moment,” she said. “Love is an amazing thing. We have so much to be thankful for.”