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Fundraiser held for Meyersville teen battling leprosy

By Johnathan Silver
Aug. 9, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.
Updated Aug. 9, 2014 at 10:37 p.m.


Some statistics on leprosy

• 213 new cases were reported in the U.S. in 2009.

• More than 14 million cases have been cured since the World Health Organization initiated its Leprosy Elimination Project during the 1980s.

• 95 percent of the human population is not susceptible to infection.

• In 2009, there were 244,796 cases of leprosy worldwide. In 2010, there were 211,903 cases.

Most new cases are reported in Texas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York.

SOURCE: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES; HEALTH RESOURCES AND SERVICES ADMINISTRATION, AN AGENCY OF U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

NORDHEIM - Beaming with a smile and arms wide open, Cody Baker stopped to bask in the fanfare he received at a Nordheim dining hall Saturday afternoon.

The 16-year-old from Meyersville is battling Hansen's disease, better known as leprosy. Baker made a surprise appearance at a fundraiser in his honor at the Nordheim Shooting Club. He was on a 24-hour release from the National Hansen's Disease Program in Baton Rouge, La.

"I asked my doctor if I can go home for a weekend," Cody said, not expecting it to happen, especially the weekend of the fundraiser.

Hansen's is "a chronic bacterial disease that primarily affects the skin, peripheral nerves and upper airway," according to the program's website. "Feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease, it is well established that Hansen's disease is not highly transmissible, is very treatable and, with early diagnosis and treatment, is not disabling."

Doctors have not determined how Cody contracted the disease, though it commonly is associated with armadillos. He has said he doesn't remember encountering one.

He was misdiagnosed a few times, and he and family didn't find the right fit in a doctor right away. Once his mother, Christy Baker, 35, heard "leprosy," she was stunned.

"I said 'What?'" the Meyersville resident recalled. "I'm old enough to know I've heard it before. I'm not old enough to know what it is."

Cody has been on a regimen of antibiotics and a steroid, which has caused him to gain weight. He went from weighing about 135 pounds in 2012 to weighing about 215 pounds.

One of the drugs he's taking costs $5,000 a pill. He takes three a day. The Baton Rouge program covers it, but when he returns home toward the end of the month, a battle with his insurance provider could commence.

At one point, the disease left him cringing at night because of the pain from moving. But Saturday, he ran, clung to friends and family and even skateboarded.

"I feel fine," he said. "I feel like a kid."

One of those friends he embraced was Taylor Hahn, a 15-year-old from Cuero. She's visited him in Baton Rouge.

"He's basically my best friend," she said. "He's really nice. He's the sweetest guy I know."

During the afternoon, family, friends and other supporters made donations, partook in a barbecue meal and made bids on a silent auction. The event was scheduled to run through midnight.

Cuero residents Loraine and Edwin Michalek, who have known Cody since he was a boy, helped organize the event and provided meat for barbecuing.

Waller resident Paula Aaron also helped organize. Aaron, who doesn't know the Bakers well, said her faith in God influenced her decision to help.

"All he wants to do is be a teenager and drive a truck like other boys," Aaron said.

Cody is expected to face five more years of treatment.

"It's good because I have a good attitude," he said, "and they say I'm young. I'll heal faster."

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