Young gospel singer prays for healing from a rare disease

January 5, 2019
Dustin Chapman in NYU Winthrop Hospital for procedure to remove clamps and staples after esophageal surgical procedure on December 5, 2018

Dustin Chapman, 21, has a special gift for expressing his praise to God as well as his pleas. He does it by writing songs and singing them as he plays piano. Under the trial of a rare disease, his musical expression has only grown deeper.

Chapman, of Whiteville, has a rare disease called achalasia. It’s where nerves in the esophagus become damaged. It causes the esophageal muscles to grow weaker. As a result, solid food or even liquid may be blocked on the way to the stomach.

About four years ago, the disease began causing problems for Chapman. He lost a lot of weight, and his kidneys began to shut down. That’s when he was prescribed a special liquid diet.

He has been in and out of hospitals with several surgeries. In July 2018, Duke specialists’ efforts to relieve his symptoms failed. During that hospital stay, he wrote a prayer-filled song. He sang it that same night while he played on a Duke Cancer Center piano.

Chapman remembers the attention he received.

“I had cancer patients come up to me, and they were crying and they were like, ‘You know, that was probably therapeutic for you, but we needed that just as much as you did,’” he said.

A video camera also captured that moment. Chapman shared it on social media. Eventually, it attracted tens of thousands of devoted followers.

“I’ve gotten messages from like Australia and Venezuela,” said Chapman.

On December 5, Chapman and his family heard about a new surgical approach for achalasia by a gastrointestinal specialist at New York University’s Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, New York.

“They split my upper half of my esophagus muscle to allow it to open up properly,” said Chapman.

Temporary clamps and staples held the incision together as it healed. On Jan. 2, 2019, Chapman and his mother, Sandi Smith Chapman, returned to Winthrop Hospital to have the devices removed. They had hoped it would be the answer to his problem to allow him to “eat and function like a normal young person would,” said Chapman.

After the surgery, doctors told his mother that it looked like the procedure would not offer him much help with swallowing. However, they recommended waiting another four weeks for swelling to go down and see if his condition improved.

On Dec. 20, while still in Whiteville, Chapman explained how, at times, he struggled with his faith.

“It’s been trying, I’m not going to lie to you, but it’s been rewarding, and it’s shown me, you know, just how good he is,” Chapman said.

Faced with the possibility of his last resort, a permanent feeding tube, Chapman said, “I am prepared for that if it comes down to that. I’ve prayed about it and I’ve gotten to that place where I’m going to be OK.”

Looking back on his journey, and all the new friends he has made and all the people he has inspired, he added, “I’ve realized that I’m pretty blessed, even to be going through what I’m going through. I’m still blessed.”

Chapman is a student at Catawba College in Salisbury and plans to receive his degree in communications this May. He also hopes, one day, to find his place somewhere in the music industry in Nashville.