By PEGGY AULISIO
September 28, 2009 12:00 AM
WESTPORT — Crystle Nelson Chase was a competitive cyclist, bicycling 50 to 90 miles a day.
Her whole life changed when she was diagnosed with Cushing's disease at age 17.
Cushing's disease is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland. These small tumors, which are not usually cancerous, can cause the production of too much cortisol, a hormone.
Now, after eight surgeries and a ninth scheduled this week, the UMass Dartmouth student is seeking an assistance dog from NEADS (Dogs For Deaf and Disabled Americans).
Her last two surgeries were to remove a brain tumor. Both failed.
Because of unexpected side effects from the first brain surgery, Chase, 23, said, "I can't bend over. I have chronic vertigo. Bending over is a killer. Just picking up a pencil off the floor makes me feel that my head's going to pop off. I can't drive anymore, either."
Chase lives with her husband, Dan, on a farm on Old County Road, just 2.7 miles from the UMass campus. When her husband can't take her to class, she rides a special tricycle.
"He helps a lot and that's great," Crystle said of Dan, who works as an assistant engineer.
But she recalled one day when she was home alone after her last surgery. "I had to call the EMTs. I had a hemorrhage. We don't have a doorbell. They were pounding on the door and I didn't hear them."
She said she is always exhausted and her husband has a difficult time waking her. "I think the dog will help him take care of me," adding the canine can also alert her when people are at the door.
The surgery this week is not on her brain but on an adrenal gland near her kidneys that is a major source of hormones. Chase expects it will take a couple of months to get back on her feet. Her treatment will include radiation therapy and her husband is taking time off from work to be with her.
When she returns to UMass Dartmouth after a medical leave, she will resume her studies in medical laboratory science. She wants to do Cushing's research.
Chase said the disease "normally (is) curable but, in this case, it's not," she said, adding she has a unique form.
Chase grew up in Rockport, where her mother still lives, and attended Gloucester High School.
Her husband has been helping her raise money for the NEADS dog and her mother helps with doctors' appointments.
Chase's father, who lives in Wilton, N.H., is also raising money for the assistance dog. A NEADS assistance dog costs the nonprofit organization $20,000 to raise and train. NEADS asks those who want one to raise $9,500, although it does not require it.
Chase said once she gets the assistance dog, "I'll actually be able to relax for the first time in 6½ years. My husband won't have to worry."
The dog will give her something more.
"I've always been such an independent person," she said. "Not only will I feel safer, I will be safer. It will be nice for me and it will be nice for my family to get part of our lives back."
Anyone who wishes to donate money to help Chase obtain a dog can send a check to NEADS, P.O. Box 213, West Bolyston, MA 01583. Donors should write Chase's name somewhere on the envelope and on the memo line on the enclosed check. Donations can also be made online at www.caringk9.org. Donations are tax deductible and any extra money raised will go to help others, Chase said.
For more information on NEADS, visit www.neads.org.