Humor provides release for debilitating disease
By Pat Sunderland
Published Thursday, November 16, 2017 9:44 am
Stan Arnett "Coppertone"
From a young age, we're taught not to laugh or point fingers at people who look or act differently from us. So when Stanley Arnett cracks a joke about the tremors in his arms and hands, not everyone sees the humor. But Arnett says the comedy routine is what keeps him sane. He uses comedy as a release, as well as a way to raise money for medication and medical expenses, since he's on disability.
Growing up in Delta, Arnett was a hardworking kid who enjoyed mowing lawns, helping the elderly from church and working alongside his dad on household projects. At 14, he handed out "Super Stan, the Handyman" business cards.
In high school he played football, ran track and sang in the show choir. After graduating from Delta High School in 2004, he went to WyoTech, where he earned a degree in auto body and painting.
Back in Delta, he found a job at the coal mines and began freely spending his paychecks -- on a house, a pickup, hot tub and more. In his free time, he enjoyed snowboarding, camping and partying with his many friends. He soon fell in love and after a four-month engagement, was married in an outdoor ceremony. Then, exactly one day after their first wedding anniversary, his young wife left.
Arnett says his grief was uncontrollable. A desperate attempt at reconciliation ended in a charge of felony trespassing and domestic violence.
His "year of hell" continued when he was hospitalized with liver failure attributed to alcohol abuse. It took another month for an eye test to confirm a diagnosis of Wilson's Disease, which is basically copper poisoning. The eye test disclosed copper-toned Kayser-Fleischer rings around the iris of Arnett's eyes. He was 25.
Arnett explains that copper is common in many things we eat, and is vital for blood circulation and general health. But a patient with Wilson's Disease can't metabolize copper. He adds that copper is known as the emotional mineral, and possibly contributed to his uncontrollable emotions during the "year of hell."
Symptoms are numerous, and in Arnett's case included liver damage, insomnia and dystonia. In May 2016, he began having neurological-related tremors. They started mildly, but by spring began to affect his head, jaw and right leg, as well. The tremors make coordination for eating and hygiene difficult. Work, and even living independently, were no longer possible. The realization he could no longer continue working in the mine and supporting himself led to a nearly successful suicide attempt.
Eventually he began to see some humor in his situation and he decided to develop a comedy routine. He's done several performances at Delta bars, and on Dec. 13, he's heading to Las Vegas to try out for "America's Got Talent."
He's also joined forces with a small group of people dedicated to bringing awareness of Wilson's Disease to the public through humor and discussion. They started the Copperwove Foundation, which also raises awareness of suicide prevention, provides assistance with medical expenses, and provides people with educational travel opportunities.
"As Wilson's Disease is such a rare disease, I want to help educate people about it," Arnett said.
A personal goal is to make scholarships available for hardworking individuals who didn't necessarily do well in school. Arnett said the scholarship would be named The Maryannee Etheridge Scholarship, in memory of his tutor and lifelong mentor "who helped me get through school and the tough times through those years."
Most of all, he wants to share the message that life is short, and it should be lived to the fullest.
Arnett says he will likely need a liver transplant in the future, and his medications are quite expensive. Brain surgery is also a possibility, but not a step he's prepared to take right now, "because shaking is my money maker."