Fundraiser to help couple facing illness, mounting medical bills

  • Posted: Friday, February 22, 2013 3:14 a.m.
Katie Peeler gives her mother, Becky, a kiss while her brother, Will, goofs off in the background. Becky has been in and out of the hospital since receiving a bone marrow transplant in July.
Katie Peeler gives her mother, Becky, a kiss while her brother, Will, goofs off in the background. Becky has been in and out of the hospital since receiving a bone marrow transplant in July.

GRANITE QUARRY — Not long after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago, Kelly Peeler had to stop working.

He had 25 years in with the N.C. Department of Corrections, which wasn’t enough to retire.


The Granite Quarry resident used up a year of sick leave and vacation time before being put on disability.

“I was more of a liability after finding out about the MS,” Peeler said.

It started with a single fall during a trip to the beach.

“After that I wasn’t having a lot of feeling in my leg,” he said.

When Peeler sought answers from his primary care doctor, he suggested going to the hospital for a round of tests.

During his first visit, the hospital physicians used a pen to poke his leg. No feeling.

“It was about this far in,” he said holding up his hand to demonstrate about 2 inches. “They did two MRIs and a spinal tap over a period of about three weeks and then he called and told me I have MS.

“I almost fell out of my chair, I had never been sick before other than an occasional sinus infection.”

Fast forward two years to find Peeler battling short-term memory loss and extreme leg pain.

“I have to take a shot every other day along with several other medications,” he said.

But the physical ailments are nothing compared to what Peeler faces emotionally.

Facing leukemia

Just one year after he was diagnosed with MS, Kelly’s wife, Becky, was told she had leukemia.

Like Kelly, Becky went to her primary care doctor. She had been experiencing a rapid heartbeat.

She was sent to the hospital, where they did a few blood tests and an EKG.

The EKG results were good. It was the blood tests that revealed the trouble.

“The doctor came in and said ‘We need to talk about your leukemia,’ ” Kelly said. “She looked around the room and said ‘I don’t have leukemia.’ ”

The blood tests showed a 99 percent chance she did. A trip to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center confirmed it.

Becky started having chemotherapy treatments once a week, but doctors knew that wouldn’t be enough — she needed a bone marrow transplant.

“Her sister was a perfect match,” Kelly said. “She had the surgery July 24 and the cancer was cured, but since then she’s had a lot of problems.”

Becky hasn’t spent more than two weeks at her Mulberry Lane home with Kelly and their three teenage children since then.

She had to take a short-term medical leave of absence from her job as an educational diagnostician in the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s exceptional children’s department. Kelly said his wife hopes to eventually return to the job and the district, where she began working as a teacher 30 years ago.

Frequent hospital stays

Becky has been hospitalized for blood clots in her legs and lungs as well as rectal bleeding.

She spent 26 days at Wake Forest fighting off graph-versus-host disease, a complication that can occur after a bone marrow transplant in which the new donor cells attack the recipient’s body.

The disease can take on many forms, but Becky experienced a rash all over her body.

After her rectal bleeding episode, Becky’s blood pressure dropped to 68/30.

“They gave her blood and did a CT scan,” Kelly said. “They thought they saw a hole or tear in her intestines.”

That meant Becky would have to undergo surgery.

“They didn’t find anything, but they did a colonoscopy and found an ulcer in her rectum, which they said could’ve been causing the bleeding,” Kelly said.

Doctors inserted a filter in her chest to catch any blood clots that might break off and head for her heart and lungs.

“The most recent issue is the incision opened up a couple days ago,” Kelly said. “They are using a wound vac now to try to help it heal and avoid another survey.

“If she has to undergo surgery again it would be really risky because she’s so weak.”

Kelly said he has faith Becky will eventually regain her health.

“(The doctors) say all this is bumps in the road, and they’ll get her through it,” he said.

The Peeler family, which includes 12-year-old Will and 18-year-old twins Katie and Mandy, has been taking it all one day at a time.

“They say God doesn’t give you more than you can take, so I think we’ve about hit our limit,” Kelly said.

The girls, who are both in their first year of college, have helped make sure Will gets to baseball practices and other after-school activities.

“They are concerned and love her to death, but we’re trying to go on with lives as normal,” Kelly said.

Kelly stays strong for the family, but admits at times he’s been scared.

“I worry enough for all of us. I don’t want them to worry,” he said. “I hate that Becky’s had to go through all this.”

Another worry

As the bills for Becky’s hospital stays slowly begin to trickle in, money has become another worry.

But the family will get a little help from some friends this weekend.

Ashleigh Zachary and her mother, Deb Houpe, are working with Katie Peeler to host a benefit concert from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday.

A Christian rock band will perform at the Peelers’ home church, Shiloh United Methodist at 234 S. Main St. in Granite Quarry.

The event will feature a silent auction and people will be able to purchase Thirty-One gifts, handmade items, hotdogs, hamburgers and baked goods.

All proceeds will go directly to the Peeler family.

“Our church family and friends have been amazing,” Kelly said. “They have been so supportive through all of this.”

Those who can’t attend Saturday’s fundraiser but would like to donate to the family can contact Zachary at 704-640-0420.

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.

Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation

Facebook: facebook.com/Sarah.SalisburyPost

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