by Lisa Tome
After a year of terrifying moments which left him clinging to life, Aaron Rouselle has a new beginning.
And a new liver.
Rouselle, 30, of Perryville, has a renewed enthusiasm for simple living and a dream of earning a college degree in environmental science which he hopes leads to his dream job as a park ranger.
"I was always pretty healthy. Once I hit 30, everything went downhill," he said. Rouselle was a standout basketball player at Perryville High and Harford Community College. He also coaches Crossfit. His series of health woes was sudden and unexpected.
In June 2015, he had his gall bladder removed. Following that surgery, it was discovered that he had swollen lymph nodes in his groin and other parts of his body. "The last time I was sick was 2005. I had Meningitis. Other than that, I've always had a clean bill of health," he said. "I still don't have a primary care physician. And I don't ever go to the doctor."
A biopsy was performed and no cancer was found in the nodes. It was then discovered that he had penile cancer. In the U.S., penile cancer is very rare. There are fewer than 20,000 cases documented annually in the U.S.
"They told me there was one in a billion chance that it was penile cancer. My doctor had never seen it. But if not for my gall bladder surgery, they wouldn't have found it," he said.
On August 4, the penile cancer was diagnosed. On September 1, he had surgery, which requires removing layers of the penis. "I don't think it's impacted me psychologically. I enjoy making fun of myself, and that helps," he said.
On September 11, it was determined that Rouselle was now cancer free.
"I never was worried that it would get worse. I planned on going back to work a few days later," he said.
He thought the worst was over.
A few days after the cancer free declaration, Rouselle became ill. "I was sick all weekend. I had no appetite and I just wanted to sleep. When his fever reached 103 degrees, his girlfriend, Allison Lovenstein, insisted he go to the hospital at Upper Chesapeake. A few days later, he became septic and was transferred to ICU at Shock Trauma.
There, he was intubated, had kidney dialysis, and was connected to a MARS (Molecular Adsorbent Recirculating System) machine which takes over the liver functions. He was sedated during this time.
"They (doctors) decided I needed a liver in 12 hours or I'd be dead. And they have no idea what caused my liver to fail," he said.
He was on a donor's list for eight hours when a match was located also at Shock Trauma. The donor was on life support. "They (the donor) were on the same floor, the next room over," he said.
He received the donor liver in the nick of time and is now recovering.
"My kidney function is 100 percent. My liver is good. Outside of the scar, I'm back to normal, except I'm 30 pounds lighter," he said. "That's why I could handle all of this, because I was in the shape I'm in. And for some reason, I'm still here. I shot some baskets yesterday and I ran. I'm going to get back to where I was (health wise)."
Rouselle's insurance ran out October 31. Friends and family held a benefit for him in November, raising nearly $10,000 to help him with expenses. " The support in the community was unreal. When I turned on my phone (during recovery), I had thousands of messages. And Allie had thousands of messages. Random people showed so much love. It's been overwhelming. There is no way I could ever pay back everyone who helped or even meet everyone who helped. I always liked to do things on my own. This has been so hard having so much help," he said. "I'm beyond grateful. This is all so hard to comprehend. I thought I was unbreakable, untouchable I'm quickly humbled now. I have to write a letter to the donor family thanking them. That's the hardest thing I will ever have to do. They weren't ready for him (the donor) to go. They let him pass so I could live. How do you show your appreciation for that?"
Before he became ill, Rouselle worked as a teacher's assistant at High Road School. He's not able to work right now and is taking online college classes. He's also started his own Living Simple campaign. The proceeds from sales of bumper stickers he's selling are being divided between the Donate Life organization, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and American Legion Post 135, where Rouselle is a member of the Sons of the American Legion. He has also embraced the simple life spending his days recycling trash he picks up in his hometown of Port Deposit and making fishing lures from recycled items.
He's a father of a 10 year-old daughter and a five-year-old son and said his family has become more important than ever. He also worked to end the year on a good note after such a tough time. He asked Lovenstein to marry him in November and she said yes.