On Saturday, the St. Thomas Aquinas community and all who attended the STA football game against Sanborn, witnessed a special presentation. Steve Rittenhouse, uncle of senior Dan Youch, shared his personal story of living- and almost dying from- Cystic Fibrosis (CF).
His story- like every story- has special value. Steve’s story, however, is particularly inspirational because, due to a double lung transplant, he has been given a second chance at life.
On Saturday afternoon, Steve shared his personal journey- a journey of trial, faith and hope. As such, it bears repeating to our entire STA community. It is beautifully described here by his sister, Alisha Youch, Dan’s mother.
Cystic Fibrosis is a disease caused by an inherited, recessive mutation that causes the body to be unable to properly regulate the flow of salt into and out of the cells at the microscopic level. This causes thick, sticky mucous, which leads to both malabsorption of nutrients and chronic breathing difficulty and lung infections. The pancreas is also affected, often to the point that patients develop insulin-dependent diabetes.
After being diagnosed with CF at age 2 and diabetes at age 6, Steve surpassed every life-expectancy number the medical community quoted. He excelled at sports, playing baseball and football, both of which helped him keep his lungs clear and free from infection (thanks to the heavy breathing that would make him cough more productively.) Football was Steve's passion, and he played into Junior High, when his breathing and his size both began to interfere. Despite his multiple medical challenges, Steve beat the odds by graduating both high school and college, establishing a career and moving out on his own.
After college, Steve found a way back to the sport he loved by coaching football off and on for 15 years. He was enjoying a full life, including career, friends, and travel. However, his health inevitably began to decline, and he came to spend 6-8 hours every day on his complex medical regimen. Just to keep breathing, he had to first give up coaching, then his career, and essentially everything other than attending to his health.
Annual, extended hospitalizations for more frequent lung infections became the norm, with less recovery after each one. In early 2016, Steve's doctor's advised that he would likely not survive more than 2-3 years without a double lung transplant. By year's end, Steve's prognosis has worsened to one year. Steve made the decision to undergo evaluation for a lung transplant.
Over the years and despite living far apart, Steve has had a special relationship with his nephew, Dan. Football was always something that connected them, but the combination of distance and worsening health prevented Steve from attending any of Dan's football games - until now.
After undergoing a very long year of evaluations and with his health worsening, Steve was approved and placed on the list for lung transplant in early 2018. Because of the severity of Steve's prognosis, he was immediately placed very high on the transplant list - second in his region. On the evening of Saturday, March 10, dinner was interrupted by a phone call that would change Steve's life - there was a donor! Steve grabbed his pre-packed bag, and he and his wife, Audrey, raced off to the hospital.
Thanks to the selflessness of the family who shared the gift of life, Steve received a double lung transplant on March 11 at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia - and he is doing exceptionally well! He and Audrey celebrated their first wedding anniversary in July, and they bought and moved into their new house in August. We feel so truly blessed and grateful that Steve and Audrey were able to visit us in Dover this weekend, where Steve got to watch his nephew play for the first time - and to share his incredible story with our Saint Thomas family.
Steve was honored to meet with the football team ahead of the game and to talk about the importance of acknowledging our vulnerability and being willing to ask for and accept help from others - and to offer that same help to others. Steve handed out special Cystic Fibrosis Proud Supporter helmet stickers to the players to wear for the season, allowing for ongoing education of our Saint Thomas Aquinas community about both CF and the importance of organ donation.
Facts about organ donation:
• No one is too young or too old to be an organ donor.
• All major religions approve of organ and tissue donation.
• One individual donor can save up to EIGHT LIVES!
• There are currently over 114,000 men, women and children in the U.S. waiting for an organ donor. Every 10 minutes, a new patient is placed on a transplant list.
• There are NO medical costs to donors or their families for testing or the care required in donating.
• Living donors can make offer organ donations and tissue donations.
• You can register online at www.registerme.org or through the DMV when you obtain or renew your driver’s license. Please be sure your loved ones know about your choice to be an organ donor!