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Families First

At the Blanchard Institute, Ward Blanchard offers a recovery healing experience for the entire family.

Walk down the halls of any High School, U.S.A., and it won’t take long before you notice the big man on campus — the all-American athlete, the prom king, the most popular student, the one who knows the coolest hangout spots and the location of the best parties. At Manteo High School in eastern North Carolina, this was Ward Blanchard.

“I grew up as the typical kid you love to hate,” Blanchard says. “A real, real charming prick is how I would classify myself.”

Not wanting to disgrace his mind and body — and scared of what his mother would do if she ever found out — Blanchard stayed away from drugs and alcohol. Tall, athletic, good looking, clean cut and straight edge, Blanchard was named Athlete of the Year as a senior.

Then, seemingly overnight, everything changed. Two weeks after walking across the stage at his high school commencement ceremony, Blanchard couldn’t walk from his bedroom to the bathroom. On Friday the 13th, in August 1999, he was diagnosed with relapsing polychondritis; a rare autoimmune disease characterized by painful, destructive inflammation of the cartilage and connective tissues in many organs. A cousin of rheumatoid arthritis, the disease left Blanchard with painful swelling in his joints and cartilage damage in his respiratory tract.

Blanchard lost the opportunity to play sports at the collegiate level, trading in his basketball uniform for a hospital gown. For the next four years, he would spend a few days on campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, working toward degrees in English and history; then he would spend a few days at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and surgical operations, including a tracheal surgery to keep his airway open.

Despite the debilitating, chronic pain, Blanchard stayed away from narcotics. Opiates induce respiratory depression. Because Blanchard was already struggling with shortness of breath, his doctors wouldn’t prescribe him medication that would further reduce his ability to take in enough oxygen.

More than 60 surgeries later, Blanchard got the disease under control. Even though he was the only student on campus with a trach tube and an oxygen tank, he was still outgoing and talkative.

“If you’ve ever seen Happy Gilmore, I was Shooter McGavin,” he says. After Blanchard graduated from college, he began his professional career in business; he represented the third generation of Blanchards at Kellogg Supply Co., a building supply and lumber chain founded by his grandfather.

But the flare-ups of inflammation and pain recurred, this time in his back. That’s when the doctors started prescribing liquid morphine and eventually Oxycontin to ease his pain.

“I instantly felt better,” Blanchard recalls. “Not only did it take away the physical pain, but it also took away the emotional pain of the life that was stolen from me.”

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