MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – Michael Carns is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who blew up enemy tanks in Iraq during Desert Storm.
He later joined the Florida National Guard to continue his service and help train troops for boots-on-the-ground in Afghanistan, specifically to spot IEDs. But now this single father of three has a new battle.
The 46-year-old Middleburg dad was diagnosed in 2013 with multiple sclerosis. He has difficulty with simple tasks like getting out of his van, using the bathroom and maneuvering in his kitchen. In the last two years, the inflammatory disease has stripped Carns of his ability to move around without help. It forced him to leave the Guard.
News4Jax spent the afternoon with Carns as he watched his
oldest son Mikey practice with his JV football team at Clay High School. Mikey's position is Center, and the 14-year-old wears number 66.
"66 is the number that I used to have when I played in high school, so he's got it," said Carns. "You can see, I mean I love it, I love it, I love football, you know watching him play."
Before Carns was able to
watch practice with the other parents, he had to put together his motorized scooter. It's how he gets around. When his 9-year-old son Ronan is with him, he helps his dad assemble it. Carns says he hopes in a few years to be watching Mikey play college football, but fears his MS will keep him from that.
"I've only missed one game since he's been 5," Carns said.
He worries he'll miss his 12-year-old daughter's important milestones,
"Walking down the aisle, daddy daughter dance," he added about his daughter Reagan.
So Carns wants to stop the progression of his MS and says a combination chemo/stem cell treatment called HSCT is the answer.
"They take the stem cells out of your body, your own body, give you chemo - which kills out your immune system," he explained.
The combat veteran has been studying HSCT for quite some time. He says he sees study after study where it works.
"It stops the disease. That right there to me is a cure," said Carns.
He says the
problem is, right now, HSCT is only approved in the United States for treating certain cancers and adds it likely won't be approved for MS for another five years or so.
"I can't wait that, I'm afraid to wait that long," Carns said.
He's done the research and says there are a handful of places around the world that do HSCT for MS patients. The place where he wants to go is in Pueblo, Mexico.
Carns says there's a doctor, formally with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester that offers the therapy there. He just needs to raise the money.
His family is fundraising through the nonprofit HelpHOPELive to offset his uninsured expenses: everything from travel to treatment, which will cost $150,000.
"It would be nice for him to walk again," said Mikey.
Carns' sons just want to see their dad get better.
"It would mean a
lot," said Ronan.
Mikey told News4Jax he hopes the community can help.
"Believe that there is hope, still, because there always will be," he added.
Carns was Camp Blanding Soldier of the Year in 2009. He says he thought he was indestructible, and it took him weeks after his diagnosis to really believe he had this disease. If you would like to help Carns in his fundraising efforts, click here: Michael Carns' fundraising efforts with HelpHOPELive.