Conquering Ourselves

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were known to be the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest. After his notorious accomplishment, Sir Edmund Hillary said, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” As challenging as it is to climb mountains, facing debilitating pain can be more of a challenge.

Mark Chase, age 71, has literally, and figuratively, conquered mountains for most of his life. He fell in love with high-altitude climbing as a teenager and has scaled many challenging mountain summits in his lifetime. In the summer of 2000, Mark was working in Colorado for a chemical manufacturing company with a demanding schedule and clientele.  After a long week of work, Mark’s favorite escape was the solitude of the great outdoors. He would often head to the mountains to hike and climb.

That summer, Mark was feeling adventurous and was physically up for an aggressive climb.  He set a new goal to climb Torrey’s Peak located along the Continental Divide, elevation 14,267 feet.  He entered his name in the register on the morning of July 29th and began climbing. “The challenge was exhilarating,” says Mark, “I knew if I didn’t show up by night-time, a search and rescue would begin.”

Mark was climbing strong and by 11:00 a.m. He had reached a large cluster of rocks. “When I got to the base of Torrey’s peak, I noticed a more challenging route right up the middle of the mountain. I decided to take the challenge, it would prove to be the day I almost died.”

Mark describes the moment he knew he was in trouble.  “I climbed around a house-sized group of rocks and placed my anchor above my head so I could take a brief rest,” says Mark. “Suddenly I felt my anchor begin to loosen, then break free.”  When the anchor broke in half, he immediately felt a jolt, experienced the taste of metal in his mouth, and realized the beginning of a very violent fall.

Mark fell at least 300 feet and hit the big group of rocks he climbed earlier. The impact broke his back in four places and his right leg was twisted behind his back. “Every breath I took caused broken bones to grate together. I was unable to move and the pain made me see stars,” he says.

Mark tried desperately to signal other hikers on a trail a mile below, but to no avail. “I resolved that I would die there,” says Mark. “With every deep breath, I experienced searing pain. So I settled back to shallow breathing and prayed.” Mark made a desperate call for help to 911 on his analog cell phone.  Just before dark, Mark heard the propeller of a helicopter. Help was on the way!

Three days later, Mark was miraculously alive and stable. Everyone was amazed that he had survived such a dramatic fall. His back and his ankle were in terrible shape, but he survived a 300-foot fall onto the jagged rock. He was considered a miracle, and in the following months, he was interviewed by Diane Sawyer with ABC’s Good Morning America.

This life-altering event caused Mark Chase to have daily chronic pain and he had no choice but to consistently use a Fentanyl patch and Hydrocodone for almost 20 years.  He believed he would be on heavy pain medication for the rest of his life. While seeking further care in 2018, Mark began seeing Dr. Grace Gallardo, MD, with the Oklahoma Arthritis Center.  Mark admits he didn’t have much hope in getting help from a new doctor or a new medication. “There were times when I wondered if I was ever going to get out of this dark hole of pain medication,” says Mark.  “Even when I came to Oklahoma Arthritis Center, I didn’t believe they could help.”

Mark’s second visit with Dr. Gallardo confirmed he was developing rheumatoid arthritis, causing him further pain. Dr. Gallardo discussed options and treatment and soon after began Mark on infusion treatments with Simponi Aria. Mark also discussed his concern about his long-term pain medication usage and coming off of it. “I heard many people say coming off Fentanyl was terrible. I wasn’t looking forward to the withdrawal,” he says.

Mark made a new goal; to conquer the climb out of heavy pain medication. “I decided two weeks ago, I was coming off the Fentanyl patch,” says Mark. “I took a patch off on a Thursday night. I had some withdrawal pain on Friday and Saturday, but I was surprised that is was uncomplicated.” After 20 years of Fentanyl usage, Mark was free of addiction; five days later the withdrawal was completely gone.

“I’ve had 10 infusion treatments of Simponai Aria and I’m feeling good,” says Mark. “I have more mobility and my pain level has dropped.”

“I have more energy, my heart rate is improving, and I’m losing some weight,” says Mark. “I’m feeling so much better overall.” Mark has no plans to climb any more mountains, but instead plans to be more active.  “If you ever wonder if you can feel better without pain medication, I’m here to tell you the answer is a resounding YES!” says Mark. “Now my goal is to walk my dog Buster more. I cannot wait!”






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