Jump back to high school for a minute; imagine you're two months into your freshman year and about to celebrate Halloween with all your friends. Then, you get news that no one should have to hear; you have a rare, potentially life-threatening, genetic disease and need immediate care.
For Mason Gechell, a 14-year-old freshman at Frontier High School, this is a reality. Mason was diagnosed with Wilson's disease, a rare genetic disease that may have lifelong or fatal effects, especially the loss of liver function and detrimental effects on the nervous system. When the disease is not fatal, the symptoms may be disabling. The disease is characterized by a buildup of copper in the body. Failure to expel the excess copper can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, eyes and brain.
"He had come home from school and he asked me if I needed the grass cut… He cut it, and when he came in the house, he said, ‘I need to show you something,'" said Mason's mother, Charlene Gechell. "He lifted up his pants and showed me his legs and feet. They were so swollen that he couldn't get his shoes back on. So he had come home from school that way. He had been like that for a few days, and he didn't tell me until it had gotten so bad that he couldn't put his shoes on. But he came home and cut the lawn without asking me to do it."
Charlene Gechell took Mason to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with Wilson's disease. Soon after the diagnosis, his health declined quickly. According to Heather Keefe, a close friend of the family, Mason was transferred to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh because his blood wouldn't clot, among other complications. The doctors determined that Mason would need a liver transplant because, unfortunately, the disease had already damaged his beyond repair.
Mason's father Nick was a match, and he agreed to be a living donor for his son. The operation, which occurred on Jan. 27, exactly three months after Mason revealed his swollen legs and feet, transferred 40 percent of his father's liver to his son.
"He's a very determined, smart son. He has become very independent, and he's had to grow up a lot beyond his years. I honestly want to give to my son for what he's going through," Charlene Gechell said. "It's been so hard. You went from a healthy kid, and three months to the day, he's in the hospital with his transplant."
Mason hopes that his diagnosis will spur others in his family to get tested, as the disease is genetic, and receive treatment if necessary.
In addition to the emotional and physical hardships through which the family must suffer, the medical fees for the Gechell family will be extremely expensive. In order to help lift the burden from the family, Keefe will be hosting a benefit for Mason. All of the proceeds will go toward the family.
The benefit, to be held on Saturday, March 5, will take place at the Lake Erie Italian Club at 3200 South Park Ave. in Lackawanna, N.Y. from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. Tickets are $20 and include food, drinks, live entertainment, a Chinese auction, a 50/50 raffle, and more. Student tickets cost $15.
"He's very determined to get better and get back to doing the things he wants to do, and that's really motivating him, to get back on his skateboard and snowboard and do the regular things he's always been able to do and hang out with his friends," Keefe said.
In addition to skateboarding and snowboarding, Mason has played the guitar since he was seven years old and has dreams of teaching guitar to others one day. He started a band that played at the Buffalo Powder Keg Festival in 2010 and is very passionate about his music. Mason also loves to cook, which has proven to be another difficult setback throughout this disease.
"[Mason] loves to cook. He'll cook for hours in a day," Keefe said. "That was a hard thing with the disease because he has food restrictions… but he has so many friends that are backing him through this."
For more information about the benefit, visit the event titled "Benefit for Mason Gechell" on Facebook.