ROSS TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Darryl Haussler has served and protected the public for more than two decades on local police forces.
But now, it's Haussler who needs help.
Haussler has done a lot in his three years as police chief in Butler County’s Ross Township. Before that, he served on the police forces in Delhi and Colerain townships.
Now, the West Side native is dealing with an incurable autoimmune disease most of us have never heard of: scleroderma.
In just a few short months, Haussler went from a leader in the prime of his life to mostly being confined to a hospital bed. He relies on dialysis three times per week.
That costly treatment is why Haussler’s former supervisor, Delhi Township Police Chief Jim Howarth, is helping spearhead a fundraiser set for Haussler’s 52nd birthday on Feb. 11. The event has already sold out its 300 tickets.
“He's touched a lot of people, and it's evident because a lot of people are touching him by donating now,” Howarth said. “Here you have a gentleman that's 51 years old, in perfect health ... You'd look at him and never think about him having any health issues.”
Howarth said he always sat one row behind Haussler and his wife, Debbie, on Sundays at Whitewater Crossing Christian Church in Cleves. That’s where, in February 2016, he first realized something was wrong.
“I remember distinctly one day in church where he showed me where his hands were swollen, and he couldn't figure out what was going on,” Howarth said. “Unfortunately, it kind of went a lot quicker than they anticipated as far as moving along.”
Latoya Brathwaite, a University of Cincinnati Health Nephrology Fellow who performs Haussler’s dialysis, said scleroderma -- meaning “hard skin” in Greek -- is a rare genetic disorder in which the body essentially attacks itself through a hardening of the skin and connective tissues.
“The skin in my extremities gets very tight, and the best thing I can equate it to is being wrapped up in duct tape. That's what it feels like most of the time,” Haussler said. “My skin becomes very sensitive to touch, and it oftentimes feels like I have a sunbur,n and if it itches or something like that, it can be like scratching a sunburn, so it can be very painful when it rears up.”
Systemic scleroderma also makes internal organs hard and fibrous, stripping their ability to function efficiently. Haussler’s esophagus, lungs, heart and kidneys have all been affected, as doctors have to periodically drain off sacs of fluid around his organs.
“This is a disease that, for me, has been pretty much a constant day-to-day pain or discomfort every single day in some way,” Haussler said. “That in and of itself can wear on you, so it's important to have the support group that I have, and I can't imagine going -- life is hard as it is, and I can't imagine going through life without God, without my faith, my church family.”
Haussler calls his wife Debbie his rock. He credits her constant dedication and devotion to him for helping him cope with his disease.
“I've struggled with my faith,” Haussler admitted. “I've struggled with knowing that I could die from this disease, but I'm doing my best to be a fighter because I've got so much living to do -- for my family, for my grandkids, for my own children. I need to stick around as long as I can to bring some light to this disease and other autoimmune diseases that people have no clue exist.”
Ross Township Trustee Raymond J. Wurzelbacher has nothing but praise for Haussler’s professionalism in leading the police force, but he had the unpleasant task of reducing him from full-time chief to part time while Haussler battles scleroderma.
“It was just like going out there and pulling the rug out from underneath him,” Wurzelbacher said. “When he felt good enough to come back and work part time, we'd be thrilled to death -- the mat's always there for him, the welcome to come right into his house … and hopefully one of these days he will come back.”
In his three years as chief, Haussler has endeavored to style his police force as public servants who are not the “knock ‘em down and drag ‘em across the floor” cops as seen on TV, he said.
“Cuffing and stuff-type thing -- I don't believe in that,” Haussler said. “We should be treating people the way we want them to be treating our siblings, and I try to do that. So, I'm a little bit more old-fashioned I guess, or old-school, when it comes how police officers should act.”
It seems to have been the right method, considering that township administrator Bob Bass said the people of Ross Township are giving back. Township employees have been taking a percentage of each paycheck and donating it directly to the Haussler family.
“We had a local businessman that came in yesterday, or two days ago and dropped $500 on the table and said, ‘Give this to your chief.’ It's amazing what people do when someone's in need,” Bass said. “You get what you give, and the spirit of Darryl is why he's getting back what he's given to the community.”
Brathwaite estimated only 400 out of every 1 million people have scleroderma – rare enough that Haussler hasn’t encountered anybody else with his diagnosis.
Haussler hopes his doctors can get his symptoms under control so he can get back to fishing and policing with the minimal interruptions of kidney dialysis. He also wants to be a voice for fundraising, support groups and research into treatment options.
“If it can help anyone just muddle through the disease or cause some research to be had -- because I doubt this is something that's being researched like cancer or anything else,” Haussler said. “If I can draw attention to it, and we can get funding for research and we can save lives, this might be the beginning of that, so who knows.”
Want to help? Send your check (written to Delhi Skirt Game) to:
Delhi Skirt Game
c/o Delhi Police Department
934 Neeb Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45233
Memo: DJ Fundraiser
You may also call the police department at 513-608-6904 to donate by credit card.