Terrace’s Fitch soars despite immune deficiency disease

It’s a big week in the life of Josh Fitch.

The Mountlake Terrace High School senior, along with his classmates, is getting ready to graduate.

A large contingent of family and friends will be present to see Fitch honored as one of the school’s two valedictorians at the June 14 ceremony at Edmonds Stadium.

Though he is the first to say he’s very focused on academics, Fitch made an equally impressive impact on the baseball diamond. As a shortstop, designated hitter and closer, he helped lead Mountlake Terrace to the 3A District 1 championship and earned first-team, all-league recognition.

“He was huge,” Mountlake Terrace head coach Andrew Watters said of Fitch’s role on the team. “He was a clutch RBI guy and he was consistent all year.”

Fitch plans to continue his baseball career, most likely at Shoreline Community College.

“I’m really excited for what the future holds, but I’m also nervous at the same time because graduation is a big step to being an adult,” said Fitch, who was one of two students at Mountlake Terrace to finish their high school career with a 4.0 GPA.

As talented a baseball player as he was, Fitch never let his success go to his head.

“He’s a humble kid,” Watters said. “That’s what made him such a great teammate and a great kid to coach. He just goes about his business. He’s always prepared. He’s always responsible. He’s always on time. He’s always working hard. He’s always willing to do what the team needs him to do.”

If Fitch seems a little more mature than your average 18-year-old, it’s no accident. Unlike most of his classmates, Fitch had to grow up fast due to a life-threatening health condition.

At the age of 9, Fitch was diagnosed with common variable immune deficiency (CVID), a genetic condition in which the immune system is not able to produce enough antibodies to effectively fight infections.

“I’m missing three of my five major antibodies,” Fitch said. “Basically, I have no immune system.”

Twice a week, Fitch injects himself with a blood product that gives him antibodies and helps to protect him.

“Without it, I would be very susceptible to illnesses and I could end up in the hospital over something as simple as the common cold,” Fitch said. “With it, my immune system is basically up to par to what the normal person is.”

The condition affects approximately 1 in 50,000 individuals with the majority of them between the ages of 20 and 40. About 20 percent of the cases are diagnosed in childhood. Left untreated, CVID is life-threatening.

Fitch actually was diagnosed in a roundabout fashion. One of his two younger sisters was suffering from hives and was having an allergic reaction. She was found to have a milder form of the condition. The doctor told the family that it was genetic so Fitch was tested.

At the time of his diagnosis, Fitch was healthy and had no major symptoms. Looking back, Fitch said that he did have a significant number of ear infections when he was an infant, along with other illnesses.

“There were some warning signs there, but the doctors didn’t really think a ton of it,” Fitch said.

Since he started taking the infusions of antibodies, Fitch has remained healthy and has been able to lead an active life.

“I’m not limited physically at all,” Fitch said. “It doesn’t affect my baseball. … I’ve been very blessed.”

Fitch’s mother, Ede, gave him the injections, but she handed off the responsibility to Fitch three years ago.

“I’ve taken full control over the infusion. It’s simple and straightforward,” he said.

Twice a week, Fitch injects himself, alternating between each thigh. The antibodies are transferred through a pump and the process takes from an hour and a half to three hours.

Fitch is able to get up and walk around during this time. He usually does homework or watches television during the treatment.

Because of a lung condition, which is associated with CVID, Fitch goes to Children’s Hospital in Seattle every three weeks to receive a different drug through an IV.

Fitch also takes 40 pills a day as part of his ongoing treatment. He splits up the pills, taking half in the morning and half in the evening. Since his diagnosis, the types of pills have varied but the number has stayed fairly constant.

As he gets older, the dosage of medication likely will change but barring any unforeseen circumstances, Fitch’s health should stay stable.

“I think the biggest challenge is making sure that the disease doesn’t run my life, control my life,” Fitch said. “I’ve done a pretty good job of that up to this point. I try and schedule things around my doctor’s appointments and my infusions. They’re fairly flexible. I make sure to keep my priorities lined up and don’t let it define who I am.

“It’s a part of me, but it’s not who I am.”

Fitch plans to spend the next two years focusing on baseball and seeing where the sport might lead him.

“I’m going to take baseball as far as it’ll let me go,” Fitch said.

Between high school, summer ball and other activities, Fitch estimates that he has only about one month a year off from baseball.

“I love it. It’s not a burden on me,” Fitch said. “It’s been an escape for me, not just from the medical stuff but anything else. There’s nothing quite like being out on the diamond on a warm sunny day with the smell of the grass and the crack of the bat.”

“It was love at first sight. I’ve always had a bat and ball as long as I can remember. My dad loved baseball as well. Like father, like son.”

For more information about common variable immune deficiency and other immune diseases see www.primaryimmune.org or www.jmfworld.com.

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