My first memory of Dan Gerdes is seeing him receive a breathing treatment at my friend Tia’s house when we were in elementary school. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the machine that rattled his rib cage to clear the mucus from his lungs from Cystic Fibrosis. I remember wondering why and being impressed with how all of this didn’t seem to bother him.
Fast forward to today, and one of the things that draws my radar more than anything is gratitude, so when I recently saw the thanks pouring out from the now 27-year-old Dan online and the love pouring out from the small-town, Johnson community where I grew up, I wanted to learn more about the source of all this gratitude.
“For me it’s always been this way,” Dan told me in a phone call earlier this week when I recalled my early memory of the treatment machine. “I’ve never known life without it. I was diagnosed at three months old, so I’ve always had to have treatments. My mom would even have to pat my back when I was a baby to help with my lungs. But for most of my younger life, I was really healthy. I ran around and played sports. I didn’t have trouble until the end of high school when I had to quit playing sports. Then through college my health started to deteriorate really rapidly. It was hard to breathe. They put me on oxygen. One day the doctor recommended me to get evaluated for a lung transplant just in case my health would deteriorate.”
On August 4th Dan was put on the transplant list, and just a few short days later on August 9th he received a 54 second phone call that would change his life.
“I had been selling chickens and ducks for eggs for a farmer’s market. I was stepping in my car to make an egg delivery when I got a call from the Med Center. I didn’t think it was anything special, but it was my transplant coordinator, and she was like, ‘Do you want a new pair of lungs?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah I’ll take them.’ I actually delivered those eggs on the way and then went up to Omaha. I guess I made a promise, and I had to.”
Dan got the call at 11:43 that morning, and after making his promised delivery, he was through preparations and in the operating room by 9 p.m.
Today he is breathing easier as he recovers from his double lung transplant. While the road following the surgery hasn’t been easy, he is on the way to feeling much better.
“I didn’t realize what I was missing until I had it. The disease progressed so gradually. The cliché is to slowly boil a frog in a pot of hot water. That’s kind of how the disease progressed. It was hard to realize step by step how I was progressing until I got new lungs. It was just so much better,” he said.
Even twenty years ago Dan would not have had this chance as transplant science has developed rapidly. Danny is thankful for the medicine and people who have brought this opportunity and brightened his outlook.
“This disease is pretty frustrating. When I was younger, I just wanted to be normal; I wanted to hide it. As I got older, it was frustrating that I didn’t get to progress. Kids my age are having families and kids, and they’re progressing in their careers. And I am just kind of stuck because my health wasn’t good enough to do all that. But now I guess I’ve learned how to be calm about challenges and push through them.”
When asked what he wants people to know about him and CF, Dan is quick to answer.
“More than anything I would just really push people to be organ donors. You can really change somebody’s life. Even my body, even though it has CF– I’m still an organ donor. There are still some of my organs that could save somebody’s life.”
Dan’s willingness to not only be a recipient, but also a donor of his organs is evidence that he is experiencing a deep sense of gratitude.
“My gratitude list obviously includes my donor, and also my family and community. The community has been so supportive. It’s made it really easy to keep fighting to get healthy again,” he said.
In addition to the well wishes he has already received, Dan needs financial help. It turns out that lung transplants aren’t cheap. Danny’s cousin Tia and her mom Annette are organizing a fundraiser event this weekend. Dan has teamed with the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA), a 501c3 charity, so 100% of funds raised are used for transplant-related expenses. Dan’s goal is to raise $50,000
Tia’s experience in organizing the event has filled her with gratitude as well.
“Dan has overcome so much in his young life, much more than the typical person. Living with a disease like Cystic Fibrosis—the respiratory therapy, the digestive enzymes, special diet, etc.—would be enough to overwhelm anyone. Let alone living with a disease that has no cure. . . I had no idea the outreach of love, prayers, and support we (as a family) have received. SO many have shown their concern for Dan and want to help him in so many different ways,” she said.
The shredded pork and silent auction fundraiser is from 5-7 p.m. this Saturday, October 8 at the Johnson-Brock school cafeteria on 310 Main Street in Johnson, Nebraska. After the silent auction ends at 6:30, an auction for a gun and quilt will be held. The nearly 50 items for raffle can be viewed on the event’s Facebook page, Fundraiser for Dan Gerdes. If you are unable to attend and would like to contribute, you can mail a donation or access the online donation page at www.COTAforTeamDanG.com.
THANK YOU for reading. If you could use some more gratitude and grace in your life, join other gratitude gals (and guys) in receiving 3-4 posts per month using the box below. Thanks! – Evi