For nearly three years, Carly Risinger has soldiered through an illness no one knew she had and that almost killed her before doctors finally found the answer. Tuesday, a Belleville business helped make life a little easier for Risinger and her family.
Risinger, 17, of Dupo beamed as she sat for the first time in the driver seat of the maroon 2003 Pontiac Grant Prix with a big red and gold bow on its hood. Her mom, Angela Ditch, 37, cried.
I was a very healthy kid, never had anything wrong. One day we went to the emergency room because I had gotten physically sick
“I was a very healthy kid, never had anything wrong,” Risinger said. “One day we went to the emergency room because I had gotten physically sick.”
It started in early 2013. Risinger said she couldn’t shake the symptoms that persisted for a month and included backaches and tiredness. Ditch chalked it up to life as usual for a growing teen.
Angela Ditch said her daughter’s symptoms included back pain and tiredness and thought her daughter was being a lazy teenager. No one knew the illness Carly Risinger had would come close to killing her.
“She complained of back pain, she was sleeping a lot. She was a 14-year-old teenager,” Ditch said. “Lazy is what I thought.”
But doctors at Touchette Hospital in Centreville were stumped. It took staff at Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis several days to learn that an autoimmune disease Risinger was born with produced antibodies that caused end-stage kidney failure, congestive heart failure and vasculitis—a condition that causes blood vessels to narrow, putting patients with heart failure in even more dire straits.
They basically said if I hadn’t gone in (to the hospital) that night, I might not have woken up the next morning
“They basically said if I hadn’t gone in (to the hospital) that night, I might not have woken up the next morning,” Risinger said.
Getting the diagnosis didn’t steer the family out of the woods. Risinger undergoes dialysis treatments for three to four hours at a time three days a week in St. Louis. Ditch, a single mom working two jobs, has also managed to shuttle her daughter from their Dupo home to her treatments.
Risinger also must watch what she eats and drinks like a hawk and has to choke down six large pills—they’re phosphorous binders, she said—every time she eats to avoid a buildup of phosphorous in her body that can stunt growth, cause thinning of the skin and brittleness of the bones. She’s also on a fluid restriction and must restrict intake to just 0.8 liters each day.
While treatments brought her antibody count to zero, it has to stay that way for six months before she’s allowed on the kidney transplant list. Managing the illness has become her full-time job. She chose to stop taking classes at Dupo High School to focus on her health, but has decided to get her GED so she can start taking college classes.
Mike Patterson, a friend of Ditch’s who works at Oliver C. Joseph in Belleville, took notice of the family’s struggle to stay afloat while they managed an illness no one saw coming. On Tuesday, he asked Ditch and Risinger to come to the dealership on Belleville Crossing near Illinois 15 without telling them why.
‘Oh my God, I got a car’
“What?” Risinger asked after a set of keys were handed to her in the dealership parking lot. “Oh my God, I got a car.”
Altogether, Patterson, dealership owner Brad Joseph and eleven other members of the dealership’s sales and finance departments pitched in to buy the used car so Risinger can drive herself to her treatments.
I leave work and I drop her off at dialysis, I leave work again and pick her up at dialysis. Then I go home, change, and leave for my second job
“I work two jobs. I go to work in the morning and on dialysis days I have to wake Carly up and take her with me,” Ditch said. “I leave work and I drop her off at dialysis, I leave work again and pick her up at dialysis. Then I go home, change, and leave for my second job.”
Risinger said she’s glad she can now drive herself to her treatments to lighten the load on her mother. “My mom is already amazing at her job and now she can do her full potential,” she said. “And I’ll be able to start taking myself everywhere.”