At age 26, Josh Aragon had the world by the tail.
The Hilton Head High School baseball standout had graduated from Rutgers University, where he excelled as an athlete and earned a degree in criminal justice.
Realizing that it was music that truly made him happy, he followed his heart and became a music producer, working with hip-hop and R&B artists in and around New Jersey, where he lived, and around the world.
Life was good … until he woke up one morning and couldn’t see.
After many tests, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, or MS, a disorder of the central nervous system. Aragon said his life continued pretty much as usual, allowing him to continue working and traveling, but he had to take disease-modifying medications. When it was discovered that his medication made him susceptible to an incurable brain infection, his doctors took him off it.
Things went downhill from there.
Occasionally, he flew home to Bluffton to visit his parents, Leon and Lindy Aragon. “The first time he came home (after stopping the medication), he was on a cane,” said his mother. “The next time, he was on a walker. You expect to see grannies get off a plane with a walker, not your kid.”
Soon after he became dependent on the walker, Aragon moved to Bluffton to be close to his family. At 38, he now has very limited mobility.
Earlier this year, his brother, Jesse, happened to see an article about Dr. Richard K. Burt and his successful hemotopoietic stem cell transplants, or HSCT, at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
His recent clinical trial for HSCT, as reported in the Jan. 20, 2015, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), achieved marked improvement in half the study’s participants at two-years post procedure, with 80 percent showing no relapse after five years, and 87 percent showing no further disease progression.
This was a great sign of hope for Aragon. “I didn’t know there was anything else out there,” he said.
The HSCT procedure, which transplants the patient’s own stem cells back into the body, has been done in other countries for years, costing about $49,000. In the U.S., it will cost Aragon nearly $175,000.
He has been accepted for the first step, an evaluation costing $20,000. It’s a matter of fundraising now to determine when he can go to Chicago for that 10-day procedure.
A crowd-sourcing donation page in his name has been created at www.HelpHopeLive.org, where tax-deductible donations may be made. There is also an account set up at local TD Banks called Beat MS with Josh, where contributions may be made.
Various fundraisers have been held in the community and others are in the works. A dog and car wash will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 1 at 925 Fording Island Rd. in Bluffton. The event will include a bake sale and Pino Gelato.
On Aug. 21, the first high school football game of the season, between Bluffton and Battery Creek, where his mom works with special education students, a fundraiser will honor Josh, who plans to attend.
On Aug. 22, an all-day CrossFit competition will be held at Bluffton High stadium. Details are being finalized.
For more information, contact Sue Cullinen, family friend and event coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Because he has read so many success stories, Aragon is hopeful his own procedure will give him back some abilities he has missed. His dream is very simple: “I would love to be able to walk again.”