FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Michael Fransen spends over four hours slumped in a chair at a kidney care center while he receives his dialysis treatment.
Fransen chokes up as he thinks about the treatments. He describes these hours-long visits as miserable because of his failing health.
“My kidneys are never going to come back; they’re gone,” Fransen says.
Fransen knows he is in bad shape. At 54-years-old, both of his kidneys are in Stage 5 renal failure. He estimates that he can last another two years on dialysis before he needs a kidney transplant.
Just five years ago, Fransen was preparing to compete in a national bodybuilding competition in Pittsburgh. Since 1997, Fransen had competed in shows across across the Midwest, winning several titles, including Mr. Indiana in the Master’s Division in 2014.
At his peak, Fransen worked out two to three hours and ate six to seven meals a day. He described it as an everyday routine since he hardly took any time to rest.
“Above and beyond working and having a family, it was quite a task to bodybuild, to compete,” Fransen said.
Shortly after his first competition in 1997, Fransen was also introduced to steroids. Steroids are banned in bodybuilding competitions, with some conducting drug tests leading up to the event. However, there were also several competitions that Fransen competed in that did not conduct drug screening.
Once he started, he felt like he could never get enough.
“When you’re on steroids and when you go to the gym, you feel like a monster, you have that drive,” he said.
Fransen was instructed to cycle through the steroids, taking a six to eight week break to clear his body before taking them again. Instead, Fransen only waited a couple weeks before he would start consuming them. His self-image and competitive drive kept gnawing at him in those times when he was not on steroids.
“I’d look in the mirror and think, ‘I’m shrinking up’,” he recalled. “I’m getting small, I’m not going to be able to compete at the level I was at at one time.”
10 years into his bodybuilding career, Fransen started feeling nauseous after workouts and competitions. Doctors also warned his blood pressure had spiked. Fransen thought he was just getting worn out from bodybuilding. It was not until he visited a kidney specialist that he realized something was wrong.
Fransen’s kidneys were only working at five percent, his doctors said. The years of steroid abuse had caught up to him.
For four years, Fransen has remained on a waitlist for a kidney donor. He credits his fiancé, Miranda, his friends, including fellow weightlifter, Rick Walters, and his faith for carrying him through these difficult times.
Knowing his time could be limited, he is committed to warning other athletes who are abusing steroids.
“I’ve got nobody to blame but myself for the steroid use,” said Fransen. “If I can save somebody’s life, or touch somebody’s kid, their hearts, hopefully that’ll help.”
In his experience, Fransen says steroid use is often swept under the rug. Professional bodybuilders like Shawn Rhoden and Flex Wheeler suffered health complications, with some even dying at a young age. Fransen says many of these professionals were known to have consumed steroids.
For athletes who are currently consuming steroids, Fransen asks those to get blood work done and seek medical help if they start feeling sick.
“I was too bull-headed and thought I could do it on my own, and unfortunately I could not do that,” he said.