SEYMOUR, Wis. – Rick DeRuyter was in 2012 diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. He was put on oxygen, which he eventually needed full-time — using as many as 45 tanks each week. He also had two oxygen concentrators, which create oxygen out of atmospheric air.
Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis is a disease that causes tissues deep within the lung to stiffen and scar through time. In cases where the cause is unknown it’s called idiopathic.
“Prior to the diagnosis I was having chest pain and shortness of breath,” said DeRuyter, an Outagamie County Farm Bureau member who farmed near Seymour. “I couldn’t even sweep the kitchen floor without having to sit down. I thought it was my heart.”
DeRuyter’s wife, Sherry DeRuyter, said often the disease is misdiagnosed because the symptoms seem to be cardiac-related.
“Sometimes (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis) can be misdiagnosed as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or congestive heart failure,” she said.
The only cure for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis is a lung transplant, she said. As the disease progressed, Rick DeRuyter said he realized he needed to make some changes. He started going to the Green Bay YMCA.
“I wasn’t so sure about the surgery but I knew I needed to lose some weight,” he said. “I also wanted to make sure I was healthy enough for life-saving lung-transplant surgery and healthy enough to recover from surgery.”
Rick and Sherry DeRuyter had read an article in the April-May 2016 “Rural Route” about Jackson County Farm Bureau members Steve and Pat Kling. Steve Kling in 2015 had a lung transplant after he had been diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. He served as the Jackson County Farm Bureau president for many years.
“I had trouble breathing for nearly six years,” said Kling, who owns a farm near Taylor, Wisconsin. “It was originally identified as farmer’s lung, which is caused by exposure to dust inhalation resulting in lung inflammation.”
Rick DeRuyter said Kling encouraged him to have the lung transplant. Kling said if he needed to do it again, he would.
“When I called and talked to Steve, we hit it off just like we had known each other all of our lives,” DeRuyter said. “Steve and his wife, Pat, had similar interests. For example they enjoy playing cards. And we had traveled to Alaska with mutual friends John and Mary Schaumberg who also live in Seymour and we were Farm Bureau members.”
Kling was added Dec. 23, 2015, to the transplant list. He had his lung-transplant surgery three days later at the University of Wisconsin-Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
“It really felt like a dream,” he said. “During the surgery I was on a breathing machine (but) once they took out the tube, I was breathing on my own. I didn’t need oxygen anymore.”
Kling spent nine days in the hospital and another eight in a nearby hotel.
“During this time, I connected with other transplant recipients and those who were on the waiting list,” he said. “This was an eye-opening experience and probably one of the reasons that when Rick called, I was able to share my experience as well as others’ experiences.
“I’m thankful for the donor’s family and their incredible generosity. Without this donation, none of this would have taken place and prolonged my life to enjoy with family and friends. I hope anyone who reads this will consider organ donation. Let family members know your wishes. Put the orange donor dot on your driver’s license or sign up online at YesIWillWisconsin.com.”
But eventually DeRuyter’s symptoms worsened; it became difficult for him to leave home.
“Rick had to go in for pulmonary-function breathing tests every three to six months,” Sherry DeRuyter said. “These tests showed that his breathing was getting worse and his oxygen levels were dropping.”
Rick DeRuyter had another setback in January 2018.
“Our son took me to the emergency room with a 103.4 fever,” he said. “I was put on a breathing machine and they packed me on ice to get my fever down. A few days later I felt better but I struggled to breath. I was airlifted to UW-Hospital in Madison, where the doctors gave me one to three months to live. I honestly didn’t think I would get home. The doctors told me I was no longer a candidate for a lung transplant because of the acute exacerbation.”
He did go home. He said he was more determined than ever to become healthier; he went to the YMCA three times a week. He worked out in the pool because it would be easier on his body.
“(But) it wasn’t easy to work out in the pool,” he said. “I’d have to have four oxygen tanks and 70 feet of tubing in order to be able to use the pool and keep 30 liters of oxygen going. I also exercised at home – 30 minutes on the treadmill, 30 minutes of the elliptical and 60 sit ups every day.”
After seeing how hard he was working, Sherry DeRuyter and their four children convinced doctors to allow him to try to be added again to the transplant list.
The family received the good news Feb. 7, 2018, that he was on the list.
“I continued to work out at the YMCA and at home,” Rick DeRuyter said.
The family received a call in September with the news they had been hoping for.
“I was out in the garden pulling weeds with 30 liters of oxygen,” he said. “Sherry came home and said we had to go to Madison. I said that I had to finish pulling the weeds, and she said no; we had to go.”
DeRuyter had his left lung replaced Sept. 26.
“I immediately noticed a difference,” he said.
Four days after his surgery, Steve and Pat Kling drove to Madison to surprise the DeRuyters. Since DeRuyter’s surgery the couples talk on the phone; they’re planning to meet for a show in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.
“Without someone donating a lung, Rick would still be on oxygen and not on the road to recovery,” Sherry Kling said. “It’s so important for people to be organ donors.”
According to UW-Health lung-transplant data, in July 2017 there were 22 people on the wait list. By the end of June 2018 there were 17 people still on the wait list; 26 people had received transplants. And 89.8 percent of the patients are alive with a functioning transplant at the one-year mark.
DeRuyter received Nov. 4, 2018, an Inspiration Award from the Green Bay YMCA for his work and dedication to becoming healthy.
“The doctors said if it wasn’t for the work at the YMCA, I wouldn’t have been strong enough for the lung transplant,” he said. “Thank you to everyone for your support – including members of our church, neighbors, friends and family, and fellow Farm Bureau members.”
Visit wfbf.com for more information.