By Molly Priddy, 4-07-12
||Caption: Jason Appling, 20, sits on a couch in his living room in Kalispell. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
On April 4, two days before his 21st birthday, Jason Appling only had one wish: He wanted to be able to open his mouth, to feel his jaw move for the first time in four years.
But he knew it wouldn’t happen by then, and won’t until he undergoes serious surgery.
Jason suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which was first diagnosed when he was 6 years old. His parents, Leif and Tina Appling, took him to treatment in Washington while they lived there when he was a boy, and for a while they thought they had the disease under control.
That changed in 2004, when they realized the arthritis was attacking both of Jason’s jaw joints. The joints were totally destroyed, Tina said, but his body reacted to the damage by growing new bone in place of the soft tissue.
By 2008, Jason’s jaw was fused to his skull. A surgery at the University of Washington reopened his mouth, but the bone re-grew in three months.
Now, Jason eats through a small opening between his upper and lower front teeth. It was tricky at first, but he has figured out how to shave off solid food with his teeth.
“I’ve got four years of practice,” Jason said.
“He can eat a sub sandwich faster than I can,” Tina added, laughing.
The Applings hope to get Jason another surgery at the Cosmetic Surgical Arts Centre in Missoula. However, after exceeding insurance limits on previous care, they do not have the funds to pay for the joint replacement, Tina said.
The family is waiting for a response from their health insurance company regarding the surgery, but Tina is not optimistic.
“We feel the chances of insurance paying this are zero-to-none,” she said.
Jason works at Pizza Hut, where he is responsible for making the chicken wings. Leif works the early shift at Costco, and Tina runs a cash register at Home Depot. Still, they don’t have the funds for what will likely be a very costly surgery, and have been paying medical bills out of pocket since 2008, Tina said.
As a result of the bone fusion, Jason gets painful headaches, which he suppresses with caffeine because he says regular painkillers don’t work anymore.
Tina and Leif also are worried about their son catching the stomach flu, because vomiting is not a possible for him. And since he can’t open his mouth, dentists have not been able to get to his back teeth in four years, which could lead to serious medical issues as well, according to a letter from Jason’s doctor in Missoula.
“It’s really nasty to think about, but it’s a reality we live with everyday,” Tina said.
Otherwise, Jason is a typical 21-year-old man: friendly, well spoken and interested in video gaming and the outdoors. He would like to attend school at Flathead Valley Community College and has enrolled twice, but the pain keeps him sidelined.
The surgeries required to replace his jaw joints would be extensive, with the first goal to cut his jaw loose and remove some of the bone, followed by installing artificial joints three to six months later.
With the uncertainty over insurance, the Applings have set up a fund for donations to help Jason pay for the surgery. There are several websites dedicated to Jason’s cause, including www.giveforward.com/jasonsjawreplacement
and a CaringBridge site detailing the family’s journey, which can be found at www.caringbridge.org/visit/jasonaappling
Tina and Leif also have an address for mailed donations, which can be sent to P.O. Box 7412, Kalispell, 59904. Tina said they were very grateful when they received an anonymous donation after a story about Jason ran in the Daily Inter Lake
a couple of weeks ago.
The Applings remain upbeat about Jason’s chances of getting surgery, and hope to have the procedures done before his situation becomes life threatening.
“We’ve had a long and difficult road,” Tina said.
For more information about Jason Appling, visit his Facebook page, titled “Help Jason Appling.”
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