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Red Horse warrior takes on new kind of battle

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Timothy R. Capling
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
He walked into a doctor's office with one problem, minor back pain. He walked out with a whole world of problems stemming from a newly diagnosed life-threatening disease. However, he also found a strong will to fight.

In November 2005, Master Sgt. Dale Filsell, the services superintendent for Detachment 1 of the 823rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, also known as Red Horse, was diagnosed with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease.

According to the polycystic kidney disease cure Web Site, http://www.pkdcure.org, ADPKD is one of the most common, life-threatening genetic diseases, affecting more than 600,000 Americans and 12.5 million people worldwide. It affects more people than Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and sickle cell anemia combined.

ADPKD causes fluid-filled cysts to grow on the kidneys, which over time causes kidney failure in more than 50 percent of the cases. Dialysis and transplantation are the only treatments for kidney failure, but there are no cures for ADPKD. The disease affects 1 in 500 newborns and does not skip generations. Parents with ADPKD have a 50 percent chance of passing the disease on to their children. 

Some common symptoms include high blood pressure, back pain, stomach pain, side pain, blood in the urine, kidney stones and a history of family kidney problems.

"My initial reaction when I found out I had ADPKD was surprise," Sergeant Filsell said. "I didn't have any knowledge on it at all."

"I knew my uncle and grandmother both died from kidney problems, but I didn't realize it was from ADPKD until after I was diagnosed and my sister told me," he said.

Since his diagnosis, Sergeant Filsell's mother and sister have also been diagnosed with the disease.

"As you can tell, ADPKD has affected my whole family and holds true to the stats of being hereditary," he said.

He encourages people to talk to their families about their medical history.

"If there is a history of kidney problems in your family, ask what it is. If nobody knows, get it checked out," he said. 

One key to battling the disease is controlling blood pressure with a good diet and a strong exercise regiment.

"I try to watch what I eat and make sure my blood pressure stays under control, that's all I can really do right now with ADPKD," Sergeant Filsell said. "I also do my best to be in the best shape possible."

Sergeant Filsell started to run triathlons in May to help raise awareness for ADPKD and to help with his own battle. Since then, he's run eight triathlons.

"It's to show that I'm in control of this disease," he said. "I'm not going to let this ruin my life or think about what the future could hold. I'm going to do what I can now. Every time I run a triathlon, I am beating this disease."

"Not only is he dedicated to his training, he is dedicated to his job," said Tech Sgt. Jennifer Richbourg, prime readiness in-base services training instructor with Det. 1 of the 823rd Red Horse. "He is so dedicated that I don't think anyone even knows he has this disease."

"Sergeant Filsell is very focused on what he wants to accomplish or achieve," said Master Sgt. Ricki Gaddy, 1st Air Force superintendent of services. "I worked with him for more than two years and whether it's the mission, his subordinates' career progression, his own career or even an Ironman competition, he finds ways to make it happen."

"While ADPKD is a serious disease, he spoke of it twice that I remember. It will never be something he'll use as an excuse to deprive him on what he sets out to do," Sergeant Gaddy said.

On Nov. 3, Sergeant Filsell is set to compete in the local Ironman Florida competition; consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon run consecutively. He trains regularly for the event with a group of people on base.

"It's a different lifestyle," he said. "We wake up at 4:30 a.m. on the weekends and sometimes train past 2 p.m."

For now he has the disease under control, and he has good kidney functions on both sides.

"ADPKD has not impacted my career at all, I am able to do everything I need to do as an Air Force member," he said. "There is no talk at all of medically retiring me."

Sergeant Filsell hopes his battle will help inspire others with similar health concerns.

"Even though I have this disease and do not know what the future holds, I plan to live my life to the fullest and do my best to fight the whole time," Sergeant Filsell said. "Training for triathlons helps me do that. It keeps me in shape and takes my mind off things. If people with other diseases see me doing this, then hopefully they can do the same and get out and enjoy their lives to the fullest."