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A healthy holiday

Dickinson's LeRoy Boespflug and his wife, Jean, are celebrating Thanksgiving this year with special gratitude for life and health after dealing with a mysterious illness that left him incapacitated for months.

Boespflug retired from the Dickinson Public Schools central administration office in 2003. Jean retired as a learning disabilities specialist, most recently from Hagen Junior High School.

"I was always very active. I exercised. I felt it was an investment you make for the future. When this came about, I felt betrayed," he said.

Boespflug recalls becoming stiff, sore and tired during the summer of 2004.

"I was 64 years old. I thought maybe age was working," he said.

Boespflug has experienced sports-related injuries, but this was different. As the illness grew progressively worse, he kept a journal of the disability.

"It was perplexing. It was disconcerting," he said. "Through pheasant season, it really was bad. I walked with difficulty. By the time deer season came around, it was extremely difficult to cross a fence."

Boespflug consulted his primary care physician, but the tests kept coming back negative.

"It got to the point I was referred to a neurologist. I kept trying different medications," he said.

In addition to pain relief, he was on an anti-inflammatory medication and a cholesterol-lowering medication (statin) he had been taking for the previous 10 years.

The stiffness progressed to difficulty in moving. He needed help dressing. He couldn't lift his arms above his head to put on a coat or cover himself with a blanket. He was highly dependent on his wife for care.

"I spent most of my time in bed or the recliner," he said.

He was referred a second time to a rheumatologist. By then, Boespflug was in excruciating pain. When a nurse asked at what point he was on the pain chart, he replied "a 10."

Boespflug learned he might be suffering from severe degenerative arthritis, as evidenced by inflammation of the hips and shoulders. It was suggested he may require replacement of both hips and shoulders.

Cortisone injections relieved the discomfort, but the pain returned around Christmas. Boespflug also developed tremors, making it difficult to continue his journal.

"It was a miserable time at Christmas. We were all worried about it," said Jean.

In February 2005, Boespflug was referred a third time to an endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic. While driving to Rochester, the couple pondered how they could possibly manage if replacement surgery was necessary.

"It looked extremely dim," said Jean. "We talked about the practical things like shoveling snow or cutting the lawn."

The endocrinologist prescribed a series of tests. He thought it was peculiar all four joints were inflamed at the same time. Something besides arthritis must be the cause.

He told Boespflug to stop taking his medications, one at a time. He started with the statin.

"That was on a Tuesday. After four days of not taking it, I mentioned to Jean I still had pain, but it was better," he said.

Having concluded the tests at the clinic, Boespflug was diagnosed with diffuse myalgia and muscle weakness syndrome.

"That's what I put into my journal," he said.

He stopped taking the statin and was to return for a check-up in three months.

The pain gradually subsided over the next few weeks, but Boespflug required eight weeks of physical therapy to get back his mobility.

"Truth of the matter, I'll probably never regain the strength I once had, but I'm 66 years old," he said.

"I hold no ill feelings against my doctors. I'm very thankful. It was something not run-of-mill," he said.

"My pain is gone. I have aches and pains, but it pales in comparison," he said.

The Boespflugs agree the experience made them more thankful for their health and gave them a second chance at leading a happy life. Jean continues running and takes aerobics classes. They eat a heart-healthy diet.

"We felt strongly about investing in good eating and good exercise to promote good health," he said.

Throughout the ordeal, family and friends offered their support.

"A lot of friends became like family and we appreciate them," said Jean.

"I think it's important to appreciate the moment," said Boespflug. "Yesterday is history and tomorrow is unknown. All you really have is today."

The Boespflugs are spending Thanksgiving with their son Scot in Minneapolis. Their daughter, Holly, and family lives in Atlanta.

Boespflug has now resumed hunting and fishing.

"I think hunting is more precious now than it's ever been," he said. "When you realize what you can lose and focus on that perspective, it makes it so much better."

He continues exercising and pursues his hobby of wood turning. His house is filled with unique works of wooden art.

In looking back at his medical experiences, Boespflug offered a word of advice: Seek help until you find the source of the pain.

"The bottom line and my message to other people who may be sore, is to become a self-advocate," he said. "You have to self-advocate with what you're dealing with. You need to look at your hand to see how best to play it for yourself."

"The other point is I'm willing tell my story because somebody else may gain from it," he said.

"I am convinced a higher power was intervening on my behalf through all of it. You realize what you have and someone gave it to you. Life is tenuous, but the good Lord does provide. In this case a higher power intervened. That's my belief," he said.