May 3, 2012

Patients walk half marathon after double lung transplants

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Stacey Wheelus, left, and David Richards walked the Country Music Half Marathon after lung transplants, raising funds for other patients.

Patients walk half marathon after double lung transplants

David Richards considers himself very lucky to have participated in the Country Music Half Marathon. Not only is it a huge feat for him to walk 13.1 miles, but every step he took added up to help a friend in need.

It has been almost one year since Richards received a life-saving double lung transplant at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. It is a gift he is most thankful for and is hitting the streets of Nashville as a celebration of his health.

“I want to see how good my lungs are,” said Richards. “I guess I want to prove to myself that I can do it.”

For the past several months, Richards has been training with his wife, who has participated in marathons before and will accompany him during walk.

Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at 28, the now 37-year-old is excited to be able to perform daily tasks without needing to catch his breath.

“I have always noticed that I had a little shortness of breath if there was heavy exertion. I couldn’t do it for a very long time. My whole life I had symptoms of CF but I was never diagnosed. I never really got sick, other than having bronchitis every year. So the symptoms were just that. There was no smoking gun.

“Just before transplant, I was so out of breath, even putting away a few dishes exhausted me.”

On June 23, 2011 Richards received his lungs and he said he immediately felt a difference.

“It was absolutely amazing. I never knew what it was like to breathe like this.”

Something else he didn’t have to give much thought to – the costs associated with his transplant. He discovered that not everyone is as fortunate.

“At first I was not planning on doing any fundraising for the marathon,” said Richards. “It was really all for my personal benefit, to show I could do it. But that changed when I heard about a fellow patient. He was in danger of running out of money to pay for his transplant expenses.

“People were rallying around him and his family and I offered to as well. We were lucky in that the transplant was not financially taxing on us.”

Richards is not the only transplant patient reaching out to help others. Stacey Wheelus, 37, also walked the Half Marathon.

She was diagnosed in 2008 with a rare lung disease called lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). In LAM, abnormal, muscle-like cells begin to grow out of control and destroy organs or tissues, preventing air from moving freely in the lungs. Her double lung transplant was on May 7, 2010.

“This is the first time I have ever done anything like this,” said Wheelus. “I am doing it for me and my donor. I am really excited about it.”

Wheelus walked the route with her 16-year-old daughter. She has been raising awareness and money for the Vanderbilt Lung Transplant Program Patient Assistance Fund. It helps patients with the costs of medications, rehab therapy, lodging, transportation to medical appointments and other medical needs.

“I really want to help other lung transplant patients in some way,” said Wheelus. “There are quite a few people struggling to pay for their transplants and their care. If I can help raise money for this fund, it would be wonderful. It’s my way of giving back.”

Anyone interested in helping others through the Patient Assistance Fund can mail donations to: Vanderbilt Lung Transplant Patient Assistance Fund, c/o Yvonne Moneypenny, 808 Oxford House, Nashville, TN 37232.