Fighter battles rare disease that shatters mixed martial arts dream

It was the hardest hit Chad Cochran says he has ever taken.

But it wasn’t a punch or a kick that left the fledgling mixed martial arts fighter reeling, struggling to breathe.

A doctor’s preliminary diagnosis, delivered calmly and with compassion, knocked him into a world of hurt.

“He was telling me as nicely as he could,” the 23-year-old Cochran recalled recently, “that I had a disease that wouldn’t let me fight anymore. And it was just too much for me to take.”

The self-described macho man who could smile after a right cross to the jaw, wept.

The scene last March in St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus, also shook Dr. Anthony Nguyen of Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada.

“In the work I do, I unfortunately have to deliver a lot of bad news,” the oncologist said. “But this was very, very difficult. He’s a young guy who worked to get into the best of shape, and he was weeping. He just broke down as he talked about how fighting was his life, his future.”

Nguyen told Cochran all his tests seemed to indicate aplastic anemia. It’s a rare and potentially fatal noncancerous condition in which the bone marrow inexplicably stops producing enough red and white blood cells to keep the body healthy. The result is an increased risk of infection and uncontrollable bleeding.

Because it is so rare — only three out of 1 million Americans acquire the disorder — Nguyen told Cochran he should go to UCLA for a definitive diagnosis.

In April, doctors at UCLA confirmed that the well-muscled, spirited fighter with dreams of Ultimate Fighting Championship stardom had aplastic anemia.

Exhaustion replaced energy; frequent infections replaced repeated workouts; hospital rooms replaced fighting cages; persistent vomiting replaced a healthy appetite; and weekly blood transfusions replaced weekly sparring bouts.

As he sat Wednesday in the small Henderson apartment he shares with his father and brother, Cochran said doctors told him new drug treatments or a bone marrow transplant could give him a chance at a normal life.

Their “normal,” he conceded, does not appear to include his dream of fighting for a living.

Nguyen said he doubts Cochran could ever again regain the strength to fight, and he wonders aloud if it would be too dangerous. But the doctor admits he has read stories about people overcoming nearly impossible odds to do what they love. He said Cochran appears to have that kind of tenacity.

Today, whenever Cochran says he feels “close to decent,” he goes to a Gold’s Gym to pump some iron.

“Fighting is me. Training is me. It’s hard to think about doing something else. I can’t pump much now, but I dream good dreams when I’m lifting.”

Cochran said he is “like hundreds of other guys” who come to Las Vegas every year with hopes of breaking into the UFC. He was 19 when he saw a mixed martial arts fight and was immediately drawn to the sport.

“It combines so many elements of fighting, and has weight classes so it doesn’t matter how big you are,” he said.

He trained while working full-time in machine shops or grocery stores. He had a 10-2 record fighting in Cincinnati and Tampa, Fla., as an amateur.

In 2008, he fought as a pro at Rupp Arena on the University of Kentucky campus as part of an Extreme Fighting Championships card.

Introduced with the nickname “The Animal” in that bout, he took on Bobby “The Jackhammer” Swackhamer. Twenty seconds into the round, he connected with a left and a right to Swackhamer’s head, sending him staggering and unable to continue. But the bout was ruled a “no contest.” Cochran said Swackhamer claimed he was scratched in the eye on the left jab.

Cochran came to Las Vegas in January of last year.

At 5-foot-7-inches tall, he has fought in weight classes from bantamweight to middleweight. Though he arrived in Las Vegas around 160 pounds, his disorder now makes it difficult for him to keep his weight above 130.

Almost immediately after he came to Las Vegas, Cochran began to feel extraordinarily tired. Then, a staph infection landed him in St. Rose for two months. That’s where he met Nguyen.

Cochran said Nguyen and staffers at St. Rose have done everything they can to keep him alive.

“I didn’t have Medicaid for a long time, and they’ve done all they could for me,” said Cochran, who now receives about $600 a month in Social Security disability.

Nguyen sent Cochran to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, where he had a professional relationship with a scientist who works with Dr. Neal Young, the world’s leading researcher on aplastic anemia.

Cochran was placed on a drug regimen in hopes it would eventually help his bone marrow create blood cells. It didn’t work, and his father feared it would kill him.

“He was shaking in the bed so hard from the effect of the drugs at NIH that the bed was moving all over,” said Cochran’s father, Terry, who largely supports his sons on a Social Security check. “I didn’t think he’d make it.”

When their drug treatment didn’t work, NIH personnel hoped Cochran’s brother Sean would be a match for a bone marrow transplant.

He wasn’t.

New drug treatments at NIH still might work, said Cochran, who added he will head there again soon. Cochran is now on a number of medications for his condition.

It’s also possible there might be a match for him in the national bone marrow registry.

“My problem with a transplant is that the only insurance I have is Medicaid in Nevada, and we don’t do bone marrow transplants in this state,” Cochran said. “And without insurance, places around the country we’ve contacted won’t do a transplant.”

Until some solution is found for his disease, Cochran knows he’ll be a regular at St. Rose, both for weekly blood transfusions and for treatment for infections that his weakened immune system often can’t fight off.

Cochran said he knows what he’ll do when doctors and nurses leave his room.

“I’ll do what I always do,” he said. “I’ll do as many push-ups and sit-ups as I can in bed. And dream about fighting in the UFC.”

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at or 702-387-2908.

Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like