My princess, Laura, used to sleep like a rock. When we met, 28 years ago, she sometimes slept so soundly that my sisters thought there was something wrong with her! For 10 years after our marriage, my cystic fibrosis got progressively worse – as it is prone to do – and 18 years ago I was dying. I was in end-stage cystic fibrosis after struggling for 39 years with $hitty lungs. I was not going to live much longer with the lungs I had. I needed new lungs. I needed a gift from some thoughtful, compassionate person and family.
While I waited for that gift – Laura no longer slept like a rock. She always slept very lightly – constantly vigilant and sensing any change in my shallow breathing pattern. I was on oxygen around the clock – and when I was sleeping, she would notice if my oxygen was compromised often before I did – and she would get up and make sure my tubing wasn’t kinked, or the cats didn’t disconnect it – she would make sure it was flowing properly and go back to that light sleep. I don’t think she’s ever recovered that ability to sleep like a rock.
It wasn’t easy living like that – for either of us. And Laura was the reason I wanted to continue living – she was and is the reason I struggled and hoped for a better life with new lungs. She has always made my life worth living.
My gift came in April, 2000. A beautiful 17-year-old girl named Kari had told her family how strongly she felt about organ donation twice in the month before she passed away. She wore number 13 on her high school volleyball team, where she was a star middle-hitter. I learned about Kari two years after I received her beautiful lungs. Laura and I met her family – they are amazing people… Kari’s mom connected me with dozens of her friends and volleyball teammates. Kari’s beautiful smile is in the background of everything I do.
And if all that ain’t beautiful enough – over the past 10 years, dozens of those friends and volleyball teammates that Kari’s mom connected me with have come out to climb with me every February, and continue to do so. Kari's family came out for my 10th climb. Kari wore #13 on her Algona High School volleyball team, and this will be the 13th time I will be in those stairwells. This year #15, #12, #8, #7, #4 & #2 will be in the stairwells with me again... A few years ago my stair climbing, and my life, were nearly cut short after years of anti-rejection drugs destroyed my already-compromised kidneys. But - #7, Alex, Kari's friend, neighbor and volleyball teammate, wouldn't let that happen. Alex gave me one of her kidneys in May 2012. I tell people that I'm slowly being rebuilt into a girl from Iowa! Can you even imagine what it feels to be near Alex and the rest of Kari's friends??? And to have them come out to remember and honor Kari with me???
My team name is Kari's Klimbers and we climb to honor her and the gifts she gave. Though Kari and her friends mean everything to me - in this situation, the reason we climb and fundraise is equally important. And the reason is very important to me… I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis on the day of my 13th birthday in 1973. In the 70s, I was not expected to make it very far into my teens, much less out of them. I know this did not leave my parents in their happy place - but my mom & dad never showed their distress to me. They fostered in me an attitude that I could accomplish what I set my mind on accomplishing. We did not deny my illness, but they fostered in me my worth as a person and hoped that would drive me more than problems might hold me back.
Over the years following my diagnosis – I've watched amazing developments that helped me, and so many with respiratory diseases live longer, better lives. Like the tide raises all ships – these medical advances help all of us struggling for breath… I witnessed life expectancy for cystic fibrosis patients, like me, go to our late teens, then twenties – and now to our mid to late thirties! I'm 54 ¾ – I'm way beyond that. I'm beyond that because of a beautiful, amazing girl named Kari and her family. And further beyond because of Kari's friend named Alex.
Kari and Alex and their families, and all of their friends are on my mind throughout the day, every single, freaking day. But there are so many more reasons why I'm alive today – organizations like the Respiratory Health Association – events like the Hustle Up the Hancock – the crazy people who climb these buildings with me – and the people who contribute to our cause, and help us raise funding for research and programs that help keep people like me alive, and living better, easier lives… They help give a kid with asthma a puffer and an understanding of how to use it – and a mom or dad programs or advice to help them stop smoking – they give hope for a lung cancer patient that, maybe, this is not the end of their road – and someone with pulmonary fibrosis or COPD education and research that will help them live a longer, better quality life. We do that. You help us do that…
Fifteen years ago, standing at the base of a flight of stairs with my oxygen tank weighing on my shoulder – that flight may as well have been Mount Everest. In my wildest, wildest dreams – I could not have imagined a world where I could stroll up 94 floors of stairs – 1,632 steps – without skipping a beat. I could do it every single, freaking day… Seriously! I can do it because of two beautiful girls from Iowa – and the inspiration from dozens of their friends and families. And I can do it because of millions of people, like you, over the years supporting people like me… Thank you.
If things are tight, just cheer me on, and think about Kari and all of the people involved in saving lives like mine… But, if you can spare a few bucks, please consider opening a purse or wallet and donating to me, my team, or someone on my team, or someone you know doing this climb… I know an awful lot of people struggling like I did. You can help me do something to help them – and help me pay forward the millions who have kept me here on this beautiful planet.
To register to become an organ & tissue donor – click here…