Monday, February 23, 2009

Lung transplant recipient climbs Chicago's Hancock tower

FLASH! Steve Ferkau reports in his comments that Megan finished the climb to roaring cheers. (see comments at bottom of this post). The Respiratory Health Association in Chicago reports that over 4,000 climbers participated to raise money and awareness in the fight against lung disease.

I continue to be absolutely amazed by what organ transplant recipients are capable of following their transplant and Megan Herdegen's story is an inspiration to us all.

Megan Herdegen climbs Hancock Tower

Megan Herdegen of McHenry plans to climb 94 flights of stairs Sunday, Feb 22nd for the Hustle Up the Hancock fundraiser in Chicago as part of the Kari's Klimbers team. Herdegen had severe asthma growing up and underwent a double lung transplant in July 2007.
(Sandy Bressner, Northwest Herald)

Sunday, February 22nd
By Jenn Wiant Northwest Herald

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS – Megan Herdegen works out on the stair stepper and the elliptical machine seven days a week. She has been out of the hospital for three weeks after fighting off double pneumonia, and 19 months ago, she had a double lung transplant.

But Herdegen is happy that she can push herself. For the first time in about 30 years, she is able to run and exercise.

Today, her effort will culminate in a climb up 94 flights of stairs in the John Hancock Center in Chicago.

Herdegen, 29, had severe asthma growing up that caused her to spend weeks at a time in the hospital. She had to breathe through a tube in her neck for more than two years while she waited on the organ transplant list for new lungs. Each time doctors admitted her to the hospital, her family was not sure whether she would ever leave.

But in July 2007, the McHenry woman got the call that she had been waiting for during more than six years on the organ transplant list: A 22-year-old man had died, and his lungs were a match for Herdegen.

After a five-hour surgery, Herdegen recovered at her grandparents’ home in Arlington Heights.

She could not leave the house for three months while her body adjusted to the new lungs and her immune system strengthened.

Right around the three-month mark, her lung collapsed.

She said her lung had torn during another medical procedure, and she had to use an oxygen tank to breathe during her two-month recovery.

The medications that Herdegen takes to prevent her body from rejecting her new lungs weaken her immune system, so she still wears a mask in crowded public places. But she can do things she never could do before.

“I can run. I can really keep up with my nephew now,” Herdegen said. “I can blow up balloons. I could never do that before.”

Herdegen will participate in Hustle up the Hancock with a 99-person team called Kari’s Klimbers. Steve Ferkau, also a double lung transplant recipient, started the team seven years ago in memory of his donor, Kari Westberg.

“I’m very excited that Megan is finally able to take a crack at it with my team,” Ferkau said. He planned to climb next to Herdegen.

“I think she’ll do it,” he added. “The excitement takes over.”

Herdegen also plans to climb the stairs with her 26-year-old sister, Susie.

Secretly, she hopes to beat her sister to the top, she said.

“I wanted to do [Hustle up the Hancock] to prove to myself that I am better now since the transplant,” she said. “It makes me feel a little bit more normal that I can do this kind of stuff.”

The average climber makes it to the top of the building in about 25 minutes, Herdegen said. She expects it will take her more than an hour.

At the top, she will be thinking about what she accomplished, and how she never thought she would be able to try the climb before her transplant.

“I hope that I’ll be able to think, and that I won’t be gasping for air,” she said. “I will definitely be thinking of my donor.”

How to contribute:

Hustle Up the Hancock is a fundraiser for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.

Merv's note: Steve Ferkau, a double-lung recipient due to CF, started the climb as a fundraiser 7 years ago. He is a tremendous advocate for organ donation awareness and fund raising for lung disease research. Visit his web site.


BreathinSteven said...

Hey Merv...

Just so you know -- I shadowed Megan all the way up... Within the first 25 floors, she said that it was harder than she'd imagined -- but I had no doubt we were going to see the top together!

We came out of the stairwells to roaring cheers!!! I'm so proud of her... She's been wanting to do this for a few years -- last year she ended up with major surgery the week of the climb... This year she ended up in the hospital with a bout of pneumonia three weeks before the climb!!! (She got full clearance from her clinic to do the climb...) I knew how much she worked for this -- and I knew she would finish -- and she did.

Thanks for bringig some attention to her story! Thanks for what you do to educate others about transplant and promote organ donation awareness...

Love, Steve

Steve Ferkau
Chicago, IL

Merv Sheppard said...

Thanks Steve,
I'm very proud of Megan (and you) for this wonderful achievement. You both are an inspiration to organ recipients everywhere, both pre and post.

And you are not a stranger to me Steve. I did a post about the Donate Life Float in the Rose Parade and read your profile along with a photo of your donor, Kari.

Also, Frank Markel of Trillium Gift of Life in Ontario mentioned that he was very impressed after meeting you in Chicago and wondered if we could do a similar climb up the CN Tower in Toronto.

Thanks for all you do Steve. We share a common bond. Merv.