552nd ACW sergeant battles rare nervous system disease

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Woodruff
  • Tinker Public Affairs

Nov. 3 was CRPS/RSD Awareness Day.

Never heard of it? You're not alone. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS, is a rare nervous system disease that affects roughly 1.2 million Americans, including one Tinker Airman.

Tech. Sgt. Guy Leach, a flight line expediter assigned to the 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was diagnosed in 2013 with CRPS type 1 stage 2. CRPS, previously known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, attacks the nervous and autonomous nervous systems.

After recovering from a sprained ankle and foot, Sergeant Leach continued to have pain. His foot and ankle turned black and blue and was cold to the touch. Following numerous tests, his orthopedic doctor finally diagnosed him with CRPS.

Sergeant Leach's wife, Ashleigh, was shocked that something as simple as a sprained ankle could turn into a life changing disease. But it doesn't take much. Research has shown that the most common triggers of CRPS are fractures, sprains or strains, soft tissue injuries, limb immobilization or surgical or medical procedures.

The couples' shock soon turned to fear and concern about what the future would bring.

Their son, Zachary, is too young to realize what the disease means.

"I am in pain daily and I try to control some of it with medication, but it doesn't always help," said Sergeant Leach. "For now I have to press on as best as I can."

Pain is the predominant symptom, though the disease also causes irritability, anxiety, insomnia, short term memory loss, depression and less range of motion in the affected area.

Through it all, Sergeant Leach continues to work on the flightline, supervising and making sure the planes are getting fixed, launched and recovered.

"I am restricted physically in doing a lot of things," he said. "I'm no longer allowed to deploy, so that's a huge downfall."

Sergeant Leach said the disease is debilitating and progressive and it affects every aspect of his life.

"It's always been my dream and plan to remain in the Air Force as long as the Air Force will have me," he said. "However, the Air Force and our nation need a healthy, fully qualified and deployable force.  I am qualified, but unfortunately I am not deployable or healthy."

There is no cure for CRPS.

Sergeant Leach sees a pain doctor for lumbar spinal block injections, along with other pain and sleep medications.

"Each person reacts different to treatment. That's why it's hard for doctors to treat us," he said. "I've already had numerous Lumbar Sympathetic Block Injections. They last two or three weeks. For others, they could last months."

The sergeant said what gets him through each day is his faith that God is watching over his family, guiding them down the right path.

Along with his family to support him, Sergeant Leach also has a new friend -- a horse he rescued last year.

"I helped him out of a bad spot, and now he's helping me out," he said. "Equine therapy is used to aid in many different diseases and disorders. So I hang out with him or go riding to get my mind off everything."

On Nov. 3, the Skydance Bridge in Oklahoma City will turn orange in the evening to highlight CRPS awareness. Also, the governor is signing a proclamation to designate Nov. 3 as CRPS Awareness Day for Oklahoma, in support of Color the World Orange.

For more information on the disease, visit www.rsdhope.org or www.rsds.org.