“I was sick all my life,” says Steve Ferkau, manager of trading floor operations at the Chicago Stock Exchange. “As a child I was always coughing and getting serious infections. I had bronchitis, allergies and bouts of pneumonia. I was very thin, and as far back as I can remember I was always the smallest in the class. At 16, when I got my driver’s license, I weighed 75 pounds.”
On his 13th birthday, his problems were diagnosed as cystic fibrosis, the genetic disease that produces thick sticky mucus that clogs the lungs. Thirty thousand Americans suffer from it.
The treatment was a form of torture for everyone involved. Every day someone had to pound on his chest so he could cough up the gooey mess to clear his lungs. “Mom had no rhythm, so at 7 o’clock, nearly every morning for six years, Dad cupped his hands and thumped my chest until he left for work. At 10 o’clock at night he did another half hour.”
In time he deteriorated so much that he was put on the transplant waiting list. For three years, he was on oxygen 24 hours a day. Just to get up off the sofa, where he spent a lot of time, and walk to the bathroom left him crouched over the sink struggling to catch his breath.
Then one day, out of the blue, when his lungs were so clogged no one knew how he could pull air into them, a pair of lungs were offered to him. “As with most successful lung transplants he was pink immediately,” his nurse recalls. Three weeks after the operation, he walked a mile in 20 minutes, something that before the transplant could have taken hours. In ten weeks he was back at work.
The one thing that clouds the result for him was that the lungs came from
a beautiful, intelligent and athletic 17-year old from Iowa, Kari Westberg, who woke up one day with a headache and died of a brain hemorrhage later that day.
Steve struggles to find some ground where he can tell Kari’s parents how happy he is without reminding them of what they’ve lost. But what he wrote to them must come as near to that hallowed ground as any poet could find: “You’ve taught me there is pure goodness in the world.”
Kari’s mother, Lisa, responded in her own unaffected way in talking about Steve and Kari’s heart recipient. “We never want them to feel they owe us,” she says. “Their happiness is gratification enough.”
This was not enough for him, however. Three years after the transplant in an event staged by the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago, and dedicated to Kari, he raced up 94 floors of the Hancock Center – 1,632 steps — in 33 minutes.
And he has done the same thing in her honor every year since then, a total of 14 times.
From “The Gift that Heals,” by Reg Green, published by AuthorHouse, 2007, (www.authorhouse.com).