BY FRANK ABDERHOLDEN | Lake County News-Sun
It’s especially relevant to Gurnee firefighter/paramedic Hank Chamberlain, whose wife, Meg, benefitted from a lung transplant after being diagnosed with a rare lung disease. The group is dedicating their climb to her. They’ve named the team “Gurnee Firefighters Breathing Hard for Meg.”
“She got bronchiectasis in her 20s, it’s a rare disease. It’s very similar to cystic fibrosis,” said Chamberlain, a Gurnee resident. There is no cure, but treatment can sometimes make it tolerable, he said.
“But it gets to a point where a transplant is your only option. We were able to hold off until 2002,” he said.
Their team of doctors wanted them to hold off because new techniques and drugs make transplants more successful.
Meg’s was successful, with the lungs coming from a 25-year-old man named Dino.
“He was working as a security guard at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park,” Chamberlain said. The donor had been standing with his back to the stage when a large speaker fell and hit him on the head.
“The family made the decision to donate life to other people,” Chamberlain said.
“Prior to her transplant, she needed oxygen 24 hours a day and she could barely walk,” he said. Afterward, she no longer needed oxygen, and she was able to do a lot more physically.
In December the Chamberlains received bad news: Meg, 51, was diagnosed with stage III chronic rejection and would have maybe 12 months to live.
“The body is constantly trying to fight off the foreign object, but the anti-rejection drugs mask the organ so it confuses the body. Unfortunately in Meg’s case, her lungs are being rejected,” he said.
Meg has been going through treatments to slow the rejection and has taken nine of 10 treatments. She is back in University of Chicago Hospital this week.
“Ultimately, our last resort would be another transplant,” said Chamberlain, 45.
Chamberlain said organ donation is “absolutely on the rise. It’s done a tremendous amount of good. It extended her life and quality of life,” he said.
Meg’s lung transplant and the anti-rejection drugs allowed her to witness the birth of her grandchild. She has three adopted children, Callie, 21, Lincoln, 19 and Morgan, 19. Callie gave birth to a little boy, Rylan, on Jan. 21.
“She was present, and she got to cut the umbilical cord. She never got to experience childbirth. It was real nice,” Chamberlain said.
“We’re thankful for what we’ve been given, but we always want more,” he said before leaving to visit her at the hospital Friday.
“We never take a day for granted,” Chamberlain said.
Team hopes to raise $10,000
The team Gurnee Firefighters Breathing Hard for Meg hopes to raise $10,000 Sunday for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, which has been running the Hustle Up the Hancock for 13 years. Each year more than 4,000 people climb the stairs to the top of John Hancock to raise funds for lung disease research, advocacy and education. On the Gurnee team are Gurnee firefighter/paramedic Hank Chamberlain, Lt. Joe Arnold, Lt. Jim Pellitteri and firefighter/paramedics John Rikje, Mark Kulczycki, Bob Davidson, Austin Malinski and Mike Siontek.
To support Gurnee Firefighters Breathing Hard for Meg, visit www.lungchicago.org/breathinghardformeg. To learn more about Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago or Hustle Up the Hancock, visit www.lungchicago.org.