Richie Clemens from Kerrville was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma (blood cancer) that has spread to his spine. He has had surgery to repair a broken back due to cancer; and is now starting chemotherapy treatments.
In March, to ease the financial burden, the family received the proceeds from a barbecue at River Star Park, including a silent auction and fun for the children in attendance.
For ongoing fundraising, the family has set up an app through Venmo: @ Michelle-ThompsonClemens. They also have a GoFundMe account at http://gofund.me/4d61218c.
Clemens said he has already received high five-figure bills from previous medical procedures, which they pay for. But any donation towards his expenses during this medical emergency would help him and his family manage their finances and family life as he battles this disease.
Clemens moved to Kerrville in 2006 and married Michelle Thompson, a native of Kerrville, in 2009. He and Michelle have two girls, ages 6 and 9, in the first and third grade.
He has been with Kerrville Public Utility Board for nearly five years and is nearing completion of his “Lineman Certification”.
“I should have finished my apprenticeship program; but in the end I broke my back. It was difficult, but it happened, ”he said. But my direct supervisors Kenneth Becker and Larry Lee sent me to study and take the tests. The ‘comprehensive test’, which should cover four years of experience and have 200 questions, is still underway. “
He said the latest test covers a wide range of knowledge from electrical engineering to trigonometry and other types of math. He can take the test here and does not have to travel outside of Kerrville.
“If I pass, I’ll get a degree and some college credits, and recognition from the Labor Board in the United States,” he said.
Clemens said that when he first hurt his back, he didn’t know anything could do so bad.
“Dr. Rebecca Barrington (local oncologist) told me the cancer in my back was so bad that I would have died within a year.”
He said he was scheduled to visit a specialist in San Antonio on April 21 for a series of all-day tests, including bone marrow extraction for a biopsy, under anesthesia.
“They told me to take a pint of blood and bone marrow and separate its components to remove the stem cells,” he said.
Then Clemens is scheduled to begin chemotherapy, a series of treatments to be done in San Antonio, and he makes arrangements to live there temporarily, as close to the treatment site as possible.
Clemens’ wife is an LVN who works at Peterson Urgent Care; and she and the children will stay in Kerrville to send the girls to school. For additional home help, he said his in-laws work in the Kerrville ISD bus shed and will help take care of the girls.
“I got married when I was in my late thirties and I had had back problems for about a year and a half. I tried to get it done by taking a lot of Tylenol and Ibuprofen; and going to massage therapists and training sessions, ”said Clemens. “When they found out about the cancer, it was in my spine and vertebrae; and on my X-ray it looked like Swiss cheese. “
He said that when he hurt himself, it crushed one vertebra and pushed it into his spine and caused five other fractures.
“This was not because of my job as a lineman. My back was gone, ”he said. But I ended that day at work – I don’t know how – and I went home and lay down and couldn’t get up. And when I tried later, I could only get to a 90 degree angle by leaning on a walker. My wife forced me to go to the emergency room on a Saturday night. “
He said between the emergency room care and Dr. Ryan Veurink, the person closest to a bone doctor, they referred him to a specialist at Tex-San in San Antonio.
There the doctor started talking to Clemens about a biopsy; and was blunt in telling him that if he walked away he wouldn’t survive long.
“The following Friday (December 17) I had an operation there. The doctor burned a tumor from a vertebra and told me that he had actually filled the hole with some sort of cement. I have bone grafts on some others; and then the post operation lasted about a week and I was home for Christmas. “
Clemens said his own research shows that this bone cancer is not hereditary and does not run in his family.
“But it is rare for it to happen at my young age. I am 44 now, and it generally happens to people 60-70 years old. I want to be around to be the grandfather of my future grandchildren. “
Clemens said last week that he is at the end of his fifth chemotherapy cycle, interspersed with steroid treatments, some at Dr. Barrington.
“Your life, perspective, thought processes, they all change. If the kids interrupt me now, I’ll stop what I’m doing and talk to them, even if they all want to tell me they saw a grasshopper jumping across the yard, ”he said.
He and his wife also recently gave birth to a Mastiff puppy, in part to help the girls get comfortable around dogs. The girls named her Nala, after a ‘Lion King’ character.
Clemens said friends offered an adult trip to the Texas coast to go fishing, but he said no because he has to stay in San Antonio for a month.
He wanted to thank the friends who organized the recent barbecue fundraiser, the group that took care of all the cooking and raised the money per plate after KPUB paid for the meat and beans for the meal. “There were tons of silent auction items too.”
He said the Clemen have had strangers out of state calling to donate; and other local residents provided the bouncy castles at the barbecue.
The fundraisers continue to help pay for his San Antonio surgery, he said.
“I had saved enough time at KPUB to continue to be paid for four months; and the bosses have arranged so that other employees can donate some of their ‘time’ to my name, ”he said.
“Multiple myeloma” is a cancer of a white blood cell called a plasma cell. Healthy plasma cells help fight infection by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs.
In multiple myeloma, cancer cells accumulate in the bone marrow and crowd out healthy blood cells, according to the Mayo Clinic. Rather than producing useful antibodies, the cancer cells produce abnormal proteins that can cause complications.
Treatment is not always needed quickly. If the multiple myeloma is growing slowly and is not causing symptoms, a doctor may recommend close monitoring rather than immediate treatment. For people who need treatment, options are available to control the disease.
Depending on medical tests, symptoms, and physician reviews, a patient’s condition can be marked as stage I, II, or III. Clemen’s condition was Stage III.
Symptoms, causes, risk factors
Signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma can vary, and in the beginning of the disease there may be none.
If signs and symptoms occur, this may include bone pain, especially in the spine or chest; nausea; constipation; loss of appetite mental blurriness or confusion; fatigue; frequent infections; weight loss; weakness or numbness in your legs; and excessive thirst. (Clemens had five.) Make an appointment with a doctor to check for any persistent signs and symptoms that worry you.
Clemens said it’s hard to spot fatigue because he works outside, feeling “exhausted, irritated, and generally ‘bad.'”
“If you don’t feel well and don’t eat well, and then eat right and you still feel bad, check it out,” he said.
It is not clear what causes myeloma. Doctors know that myeloma starts with an abnormal plasma cell in the bone marrow. The abnormal cell is rapidly multiplying.
They accumulate and eventually overwhelm the production of healthy cells. In the bone marrow, they crowd out healthy blood cells, leading to fatigue and the inability to fight infection.
The myeloma cells keep trying to produce antibodies, but myeloma cells produce abnormal antibodies that the body cannot use. Instead, the abnormal antibodies multiply and cause problems such as kidney damage. Cancer cells can also damage bones, increasing the risk of fractures.
Factors that can increase the risk of multiple myeloma include increasing age, with most people diagnosed in their mid-60s. Men are more likely to develop the disease than women; and black people are more likely to develop multiple myeloma than people of other races.
If a brother, sister, or parent has multiple myeloma, you have an increased risk of the disease.
Personal history of a monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) is also a risk.
Multiple myeloma complications include frequent infections; bone problems, decreased kidney function; and a low number of red blood cells.