COVENTRY — A family friend who fought in World War II and retired as a police captain told Eric Thatcher that he is one of the bravest young men he has ever known.
“For him to say that really means a lot,” Thatcher, 36, said as he adjusted the IV in his left arm that keeps him hydrated, though not completely. Thatcher’s voice was raspy and his eyes sunken.
“The fluids in this IV are not really doing it. This is more of a Band-Aid than anything,” Thatcher said during a recent interview in his family’s Coventry living room.
Since he was 11 years old, more than half of his life, Thatcher’s body and immune system have been breaking down. He has undergone multiple surgeries, had a cancerous kidney removed as well as most of his small intestines that were ravaged by Crohn’s Disease.
The one kidney Thatcher has is now failing him. His family says he needs a new kidney as soon as possible if he has any hope of seeing his 40th birthday. Thatcher prefers not to dwell on his predicament.
“I don’t think about it. I just deal with it,” said Thatcher, who at 5 feet 11 inches tall only weighs 134 pounds.
David Thatcher, Eric’s father, said his son’s health is slipping away, and added that the days he lies in bed are beginning to outnumber those that he is able to get up and live his life the way that most people take for granted.
“We remain hopeful that God is going to hear our prayers,” said David Thatcher, who is a catechist and lector at SS. John and Paul Church in Coventry.
“We’re grounded in our faith,” David Thatcher said, adding that Father Michael Woolley, the pastor at SS. John and Paul Church, has visited the home and prayed with the family.
“If we didn’t have our faith, I don’t know where we would be,” said Roseann Thatcher, who is David’s wife and Eric’s mother.
To say that the Thatcher family has been through a lot would be an understatement. In June 2017, the family lost David Thatcher Jr., Eric’s older brother who also suffered from lifelong health issues, to a sudden heart attack. He was 41.
“We were heartbroken. We are not prepared to lose another child,” David Thatcher said.
At an age when young boys are running around and playing sports, Eric — the youngest of David and Roseann’s four children — was already logging frequent flier miles at hospitals in Providence and Boston.
Originally thought to have colitis, an inflammation of the inner lining of the colon, Eric endured multiple long hospital stays and fasting periods of up to 45 days with no solid foods. Bedridden for weeks at a time, he missed most of his junior and senior years of high school.
“There have been a lot of hurdles,” said David Thatcher, who added that his son’s life of suffering has brought people together and been a source of strength and inspiration for those who know him.
“He doesn’t want his illness to define his life,” Thatcher said.
Eric’s kidney began failing him just a few months after he underwent an intestine transplant surgery in 2016. Along the way, he has endured countless medical complications, including painful fistulas that had to be cut open and drained.
“He can’t catch a break,” David Thatcher said.
Eric said his illness has made him stoic and able to handle setbacks that would consume most people. However, he admits to feeling depressed and angry at times that his health problems essentially robbed him of a childhood. Sometimes, he wonders if he will have a future.
“I want to be able to live life for once. It’s been too long,” Eric said. “I don’t want to be 45 years old and just starting my life.”
In the moments where he has had his strength, Eric has enjoyed spending time outdoors with his family in Vermont and New Hampshire. He also likes muscle cars and going to the gun range.
But today, Eric has to be careful about getting sick so as not to overwhelm his compromised immune system. He does not make it to Mass as often as he would like. He doesn’t work or leave the house that often. He also does not drive or date.
“I wouldn’t want to date and put someone in that position,” said Eric, who added that he is now in “a holding pattern” as he waits for news on a kidney donor. The family has been told there is a five-to-six-year waiting period, but they fear Eric does not have that much time.
“I pray that a kidney comes through,” Eric said as he petted Brutus, the family’s nine-year-old Rottweiler who was his former therapy dog. Brutus is very protective of Eric, and sizes up a visitor who enters the Thatcher home.
“He’s a good dog,” Eric said.
Some friends and acquaintances have expressed desires to donate their kidneys for Eric, but so far none of them have followed through.
“We really need someone who is committed to this,” David Thatcher said.
The parish family at SS. John and Paul Church has done its part, publicizing Eric’s story in the parish bulletin. The Knights of Columbus Monsignor Blessing Council in Coventry donated $350 to buy 50 magnetic bumper signs in the shape of a kidney to draw the public’s attention to Eric’s need for a kidney donor.
In the meanwhile, Eric is not giving up hope. He talks about how he hopes to visit kidney patients in the hospital to give them emotional and spiritual support when he feels better.
“You’re always going to have those tough times, but they’re temporary,” said Eric, who added: “Having a top-notch family helps too.”