The note, written in the neat handwriting of a mechanical engineer, simply said, “Rosemary and I will never be able to thank you enough for everything that you have done for us. We will never be able to pay you back for our ‘miracle’ transplant. Hopefully you can use this donation to advance your cause.” Enclosed was a $25,000 check.
In late 2013, Joe (who asked us not to use his last name) had swollen legs and trouble catching his breath. He and his wife Rosemary went to the hospital near their Fort Mitchell, KY. home, where Joe was diagnosed with two dozen blood clots in both lungs. He was admitted, stayed for seven days, and then sent home with 24-hour oxygen. Six weeks later, still with no clear diagnosis, Joe was referred to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, which diagnosed him with interstitial lung disease and prescribed medications to slow the disease’s progression. However, Joe’s health steadily declined for three more years.
In September 2017, when the need for a transplant became evident, Joe’s doctors referred him to IU Health and David Roe, MD, medical director of Lung Transplant and ECMO at IU Health Methodist Hospital. Dr. Roe wanted to admit Joe immediately due to the seriousness of his disease, but allowed him to return home as long as he logged his functions and oxygen levels and emailed them to Dr. Roe.
In November, Joe failed the six-minute walk test, an indicator of pulmonary health. He was declining and the transplant team decided to list him for a lung transplant. Two days later, they called again and said to come for the transplant. “I was at rehab, and I got this call saying to be there by 5 pm,” said Joe. While Rosemary packed the car for the two-and-a-half-hour drive, Joe—always the engineer—changed the furnace filters.
The surgery took nearly 12 hours, and Joe spent 28 days in the hospital, with kidney complications that required a brief time on dialysis. He was then expected to spend 30 days in the Center of Life for Thoracic Transplant (COLTT), but completed his therapy there in just two weeks.
During Joe’s time at Methodist, Rosemary was especially grateful for the support of the nursing staff. “We’ve been through every nurse,” she said. “The thing is: they really treat you with respect.” She documented the entire process in a journal.
They noted that Katie Bussard, RN, BSN, ACNP, helped motivate Joe. “Katie gave Joe a challenge every day,” said Rosemary. “Joe made sure to do a little more every day.”
Bussard said, “We are kind of pushy, because we know that constant participation is what makes patients better. I call our floor boot camp, because we want to know that patients can do what the COLTT requires.”
Bussard, whose mother’s work as a nurse inspired her, began her career at IU Health in Adult Critical Care, then earned her master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner. “I had worked in the ICU as a bedside nurse for my whole career and loved the complexity and intensity of the patients. I particularly became interested in the pulmonary aspect of critical care, and that is one of the reasons I wanted to work with the lung transplant team,” she said. “Our role is a complex one. We are nurses who have advanced training and education allowing us to work alongside physicians and other healthcare providers to care for critically ill patients.”
She especially enjoys bumping into former patients who return for follow-up appointments or just stop in to visit. “It is so great to see them once they have fully recovered from their transplant and are back to normal everyday life,” she said.
Joe added, “This whole IU Health facility is unbelievable—the best I’ve ever seen, from the housekeeping staff to the surgeons. After 12 days on a liquid diet, my first real meal since surgery was noodles and beef—the best food ever.”
Even before Joe was discharged, the couple had discussed how to show their gratitude. “We’re so blessed,” Joe said. Their $25,000 gift to the IU Health Foundation carried the stipulation that Roe determine how the money was spent. He has suggested using the gift to fund the home spirometry program, so patients can report their lung capacity via their cell phones without having to leave home.
Now things are pretty much back to normal, and Joe is back in the office. He said, “The guys at work say, When are you going to retire? Retire? I just started over!”
During Nurses Week, May 6 through 12, you can support outstanding nurses by donating to the Distinguished Nurse Excellence Fund. Or explore other giving options through the IU Health Foundation.