Nation angler makes run at championship after transplant

After a third-place finish in the South Dakota B.A.S.S. Nation Angler of the Year standings in 2020, Eric Storms is making his second straight trip to a B.A.S.S. Nation Regional and this year, he is working with some new equipment.

After his kidney function dropped to 12 percent at the beginning of 2020 after years of managing Type I diabetes, Storms received a kidney and pancreas transplant on Dec. 16, a procedure that took over nine hours to complete. With the transplant complete and recovery going as planned, the South Dakota B.A.S.S. Nation Youth Director and volunteer firefighter with the Chamberlain-Oacoma Vol. Fire Department is looking forward to new freedom in life and on the water.

“I am no longer on insulin or have an insulin pump,” Storms said. “My kidney function is back to almost normal. It’s life-changing. Even for fishing, before I was always worried about low blood sugar and making sure I had medication. When I was wearing the pump, there were times where I would set the hook and it would catch the tubing attached to my body and rip it out.”

When he was 14 years, Storms was diagnosed with diabetes and began using an insulin pump and other technology to treat the disease. Although meticulous with his regiment, his kidneys slowly began to fail and in December 2019, Storms and his wife Destiney began to have “serious conversations” with his kidney doctor about further treatments.

“When we were first told we needed to decide about home dialysis and a transplant, we kind of felt like it was just thrown at us,” Destiney said. “We were just in shock. He didn’t feel any different than he had in the past. He didn’t have any major side effects that set him back.”

In March, Storms was placed on the transplant list for a kidney and a pancreas but with the COVID-19 just beginning in the United States, in-person doctors visits were limited and Storms could not become active on the transplant list until he could get an examination.

In the meantime, Storms fished hard for the entire season. After making the 2019 South Dakota State Team, Storms caught 49 pounds, 11 ounces at the 2020 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Northern Regional at Lake Vermilion with Destiney, his three children and parents looking on, finishing second overall behind Pat Schlapper and qualifying him for the 2020 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship at Pickwick Lake in mid-November.

“Everyone was pretty excited,” Destiney said. “It was fun because me and the boys and his mom and dad cruised down there at the last minute and showed up on the second day to surprise him. It was a fun thing to be there and for him to do that well.”

With a third-place finish in the South Dakota B.A.S.S. Nation Angler of the Year standings, Storms also earned a spot on the State Team and qualified for the 2021 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Northern Regional at the Mississippi River in La Crosse.

“It was good to see him living life and enjoying what he loves to do,” Destiney said. “It was kind of nerve-wracking, especially with everything else going on in the world like COVID-19 and all the restrictions. With him being more high risk, it would make me a little nervous and I would harp on him to follow the rules even if others weren’t just for his safety.”

While doctors were ready to perform surgery to insert a PD dialysis catheter in early November, Storms convinced his doctors to wait until after the National Championship at Pickwick Lake to perform surgery.

“I knew Regionals was early enough that I was going to be okay,” Storms said. “Before Nationals, I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to make it. I was really hoping I could and it ended up being that I was able to. I don’t think my ability to fish was affected too much with what was going on. I would get tired by the end of the fishing day, but I would be able to put in full days.”

A week after Nationals, Storms underwent surgery to insert the dialysis catheter for what he anticipated to be months, if not years of dialysis treatment.

“I could be at home or almost anywhere, it just had to be a super clean environment,” Storms said. “I would have had to do that three times a day for an hour each time. I really didn’t want to do that, but it was my only option besides going to the hospital multiple times. I was going to have to have a whole closet just for my supplies.”

When December arrived, Storms met the requirements to become active on the transplant list and two weeks later, as he and Destiney were preparing their home for safe dialysis and scheduling classes to learn about the treatment, the family received a life-changing call.

“I got a call from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis saying they had a match for a kidney/pancreas,” Storms said. “It was crazy. It was very unexpected because they told me that it could be 1-2 years. I started accruing time in March and I was only active on the list for two weeks. I thought I had more time to prepare and then I got the call around 11 a.m. and we were headed to Minneapolis at 2 p.m. I went home, packed a bag, went to the elementary school to hug my kids goodbye and then went to Minnesota.”

“My wife drove me there, dropped me off and watched me walk through the doors and she didn’t get to see me until 11 days after,” Storms continued. “I was a little nervous. I was really confident in the health care. Was I thinking the surgery was going to be as hard on me as it was, absolutely not.”

After a nine-hour surgery, Storms could not eat or drink by himself for five days and was very weak, to the point he couldn’t hold his phone for more than a minute before having to put it down and use his speakerphone. Alone in the hospital, including on Christmas Day, Storms spent his time either FaceTiming with his wife and kids or watching Bassmaster videos on YouTube.

“The first eight days were miserable,” he said. “Thank God for Youtube and all the Bassmaster events on there. I think I watched every Elite event since 2006.”

Three weeks later, Storms was allowed to leave Minneapolis and when he drove into town, the local police department had traffic stopped and five fire trucks from his unit were waiting to escort him back home.

“It was unreal, it really was,” he said.

As Storms and his family made preparations for dialysis, surgeries and the eventual transplant, friends from around the community stepped up to help the family. Through a gun raffle, the Chamberlain-Oacoma Fire Department raised $14,000 for the family while other donations were made through a site called Hope, Live, L. One of Storms’ friends also sold custom t-shirts to raise money.

Storms said he also received support from not only the members of the Borderline Bassmasters Club he fishes with but throughout the state as well. Troy Diede, the 2019 South Dakota B.A.S.S. Nation Angler of the Year donated his winnings for the AOY title to the Storms family. The South Dakota B.A.S.S. Nation also had a fundraiser tournament planned out for Storms, but that was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols.

“I’ve had so much help from the guys I’ve fished with and they are like family,” Storms said. “It was statewide support, not just my local club. There were a few guys I fish against that really helped me out.”

One of the more surprising messages of support came from Schlapper, Storms said.

“That was one of the things that struck me by surprise, he sent me a written letter and a donation,” he said. “I don’t know the guy and the first time I was even around him was at Regionals on Lake Vermillion and then down at Pickwick for Nationals. That meant quite a bit.”

Now, Storms is on the water competing on the Upper Mississippi River and after reaching the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in 2020, he has set his goals high.

“I want to get back to Nationals,” Storms said. “I want to do exactly what Pat Schlapper did. Right now, he is my idol. What he accomplished last year is my goal.”