Shaw airman grounded by extremely rare disease

By Taylor Kearns - bio | email

Shaw Air Force Base, SC - SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, SC (WIS) - A Midlands man has one of the rarest cases of an extremely rare disease. It's called Dercum's, and it has changed the life of an airman at Shaw Air Force Base.

A big part of Senior Airman Jake Tate's job is prediction.

"We do weather for Iraq and Afghanistan and the horn of Africa," said Tate.

But the 24-year-old and father of three never thought the cyst-like bumps he discovered more than two years ago would wind up being one of the world's rarest diseases.

"I'm in the Air Force, so strenuous activity is a daily occurrence for us," said Tate. "We PT, I was a hiker, I play basketball nearly every day and all that's gone now because if I do it I get more sick."

Tate has Dercum's Disease. It causes painful buildups of fat just under the skin. Tate originally thought the nodules were just were cysts, but after visiting four different doctors, he was diagnosed.

"It's like a cramping, stabbing sensation that lasts all the time," said Tate.

It's extremely rare and occurs mainly in overweight, menopausal women. Tate says his doctor, an expert from San Diego, believes Tate to be one of the few young males with the disease. He's so unique, the Discovery Channel spent two days documenting his case for their show "Mystery Diagnoses."

"That's probably the scariest thing is yeah I have this disease, but then I have this disease and there's nothing to compare me with," he said.

There's no cure or real treatment. Tate says every intensive attempt at removing the nodules has just made them multiply.

"Over a six-month period it went from four to 60," said Tate, and today he has more than 800.

He worries they'll spread to his hands and feet, making it nearly impossible to walk.

"I can still pick up my little boy, I can still chase him down if he starts to run in front of a car," he said. "What I'm afraid of is when I get to the point where I can't do that."

Tate says his doctors believe the disease is hereditary, but he doesn't know of anyone else in his family that's had it.

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.