|Former UA football trainer thrives despite crippling illness|
|Written by News Desk|
|Thursday, 22 May 2014 09:39|
(L-R) Chad Bianchi with Millbrook Civitan Club Immediate Past President Brenda Kelley and President Jimmy Sutherland.
Photo: Special to The Indy
Local author Chad Bianchi spoke to the Millbrook Civitan Club last week about how an unexplained medical mystery changed his life.
Everything in Chad Bianchi's life changed on September 11, 2007. At the time, Bianchi (of Millbrook) was working as an administrative assistant at The Montgomery Cancer Center. He felt bad on that day and decided to leave work early to go stay with his grandmother whose home was not far away.
"I just went over there to lie down and rest," he said. His mother happened to see his car and dropped in to check on him.
She knew right away something wasn't right and insisted he go to the emergency room. For his part, Chad knew he had an appointment with an ENT doctor that week and was going to wait for that appointment to see if the doctor could tell him why he was feeling weak and not like himself. More specifically, he'd noticed that his balance was off and he could tell he was slightly slurring some words when he spoke.
He was admitted to the hospital, tests were run, but no diagnosis was forthcoming. He was later transferred to the hospital at UAB. It was known that something was happening within or to his brain, but tests (including a brain biopsy) remained "inconclusive." In a matter of hours, Chad Bianchi's life had changed. He now needed almost around the clock medical care. His life became measured by hospital stays - Montgomery hospitals, UAB and Spain Rehab in Birmingham, Johns Hopkins in Maryland, HealthSouth. He went from ICU units to regular rooms to rehab hospitals to outpatient status.
He remembers "playing the waiting game" and spending "six weeks or so" in different hospitals. His speech had deteriorated rapidly and his balance was worse than ever. One low point he vividly remembers was when he was given a walker.
As alarming as his sudden deterioration in health was, an even greater source of frustration was that specialists could not pinpoint the exact cause of his condition. Even today, it's not exactly understood what has caused his symptoms. At one time, doctors thought he had a rare form of cancer. Even today all he can say is that he has a condition that has caused his cerebellum to swell and, as a result, he has lost brain cells.
In the six-plus years since his health has been impaired, he's also battled one lawsuit dealing with coverage of health bills. Today - with his medical bills no doubt totaling in the millions - he relies on Medicaid for health coverage. He's grateful for this coverage, but does note that it puts limits on his treatment options. For example, he can no longer travel to out-of-state facilities.
Today, Chad Bianchi is doing far better than he was in his worst days. For starters, he can stay at home by himself (he lives in his own apartment-type space downstairs at his mother and stepfather's home in Millbrook). He can't drive and he still relies on a walker. Chad speaks slowly and his words still sound slurred, not unlike others who have suffered some form of brain injury.
However, a visitor will soon glean that Bianchi's cognitive abilities have NOT been impaired. His vocabulary and sentence structure reveal a highly educated, bright, thoughtful person.
"People hear me speak and they probably think my cognitive abilities have been effected," he said. Indeed, Bianchi seems intent on proving to himself and others that his mind is as sharp as ever.
Before his illness Chand was a recent graduate of the University of Alabama, where he had been a key part of the football team's athletic training staff during the Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula years. He decided to write a book about two topics he knew as well as anyone - his experiences as a trainer for Alabama's football team and his experiences dealing with a serious health condition.
Late last year he published the book "Crimson Dream." Most of the book focuses on his experiences as a behind the scenes support person with Alabama football. However, he also chronicles the health issues he's dealt with, providing a testament to the power of his unshakable religious faith and amazing determination.
"I wanted to write down these stories and share some of my memories before I forgot them," said Bianchi of his UA experiences he still cherishes.
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