Student battles to finish education despite health

Music performance major Gage Charles sits at the piano in the Brown Lupton University Union on Wednesday afternoon. Charles was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and osteonecrosis in 2004 and is on the path to recovery.

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Gage Charles has been in college for almost a decade, not for a lack of trying but because of his battle with ulcerative colitis and osteonecrosis.

Ulcerative colitis, or UC, is a disease that causes inflammation in part of the digestive tract, according to mayoclinic.com.

Gage said he was diagnosed with UC in January 2004. After being treated by a doctor who prescribed steroids and immune suppressants, his condition continued to worsen.

“It was very hard to watch,” Gage’s brother, Guy Charles, said. “He was my best friend growing up.”

Because of his declining health, Gage had to take a break from his education after his second semester at Collin College in 2007, he said. He had planned to start at TCU that fall.

In December 2007, he had his colon removed and was forced to use an ileostomy bag which attached outside of his body and collected waste, for four months, he said.

Gage’s ileostomy bag was unable to adhere because of the weight loss he had suffered. At 6’2”, Gage weighed 119 pounds.

“I couldn’t lay down to go to sleep because if I did, my body would change and everything would fall apart,” he said. “So I had to sleep this whole time sitting up. It was just one of those things where I was so thankful I only had one colon so they only had to remove it once.”

Gage said his father, Greg Charles, influenced him most. He credits his father for teaching him how to be assertive and how to handle life’s circumstances.

Greg was one of the first open-heart surgery patients in Fort Worth and said he wanted to treat Gage the way his father treated him while he was in the hospital.

“I kept praying to God, ‘Make him well, take my life,’” Greg said.

On March 14, 2008, Gage went through a reversal operation diverting waste into a makeshift large intestine made by a portion of the small intestine connected to the rectal area, he said.

“It’s not one of those, I guess, cosmopolitan diseases or disorders that’s just easily dinner conversation that’s easily brought up,” he said.

In January 2009, after having recovered from UC since the colon removal, Gage felt a pain in his hip. Four months and a number of x-rays and MRIs later, Gage was told he had osteonecrosis, or bone death, in both of his hips, he said.

Guy and Greg said Gage’s emotions took a toll while he was sick.

“The way you see Gage now with the smile on his face and the outgoing personality — that’s the Gage I grew up with,” Guy said.

Gage said he had his left hip replaced during the summer of 2009. The steroids he had been prescribed early in his treatment for UC had caused the bone death in his hips.

“If there’s ever a category that I fall into, it’s the ‘this’ll never happen, but it happened,’” Gage said.

Gage was told his July surgery required a four-week recovery period, but he recovered in three weeks because he was determined to start at TCU that August.

“I felt out of place anyway just because I was older — by that point I was 24,” he said. “I had had my birthday in that summer. Then on top of it I was that older guy with a cane.”

One year later in 2010, Gage felt pain in his wrist, and after going to a wrist specialist found out he had osteonecrosis in a bone in that wrist. After a bone graft last May, his wrist now is fixed, he said.

Gage kept up his motivation through the encouragement of his family and his motivation to keep living, he said.

“That’s what Gage has gone through, and he’s got the scars to prove it,” Guy said. “I mean you look at his wrists, you look at his abdomen, you look at his hips. I’m sure if you could open up his heart and see the scars on his heart, they would be there.”

Gage is now a junior general studies major studying vocal performance, he said. He was in the School of Music’s production of “Die Fledermaus” in March and wanted to perform professionally, he said.

Junior vocal performance major Michael Adams, who met Gage during his first year at TCU and who interns at the Fort Worth Opera with Gage, talked about Gage’s positive attitude.

“It’s amazing how optimistic he is despite the challenges he’s overcome,” Adams said.

Gage’s perseverance was what had inspired both his brother Guy Charles and his father Greg Charles, they said.

“I always knew that he would succeed in one way or another, but I know nothing can stop him now,” Guy said. “He will go fighting through life until he is laid in the grave.”

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