Jeremy Fuller helping former ECHS student Kyle Cole, who needs double lung transplant
By ALEX MCRAE
Kyle Cole has more trouble than usual catching his breath these days. But not because he’s out of shape. Kyle has trouble breathing because he suffers from cystic fibrosis, an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States.
Cystic fibrosis causes the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections. The disease also obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.
“Some people sit in the dark and sulk and wait for the end,” he said. “That’s not for me. I’m going to live as long and hard as I can. It’s a little harder to get around because of decreased lung function, but otherwise I feel fine.”
In the 1950s, few children with cystic fibrosis lived to attend elementary school. Today, advances in research and medical treatments have further enhanced and extended life for children and adults with CF. Many people with the disease can now expect to live into their 30s, 40s and beyond.
Through his childhood and academic years at East Coweta High and Kennesaw State University, Cole was able to function as well as anyone suffering from CF. But recently, his lung function declined dramatically. Doctors at the Emory Transplant Center just told him that his long-term survival depends on receiving a double lung transplant.
The procedure is dangerous and expensive and there is no guarantee a suitable donor will be found. But Cole is not sitting around waiting to see what happens. He and his friends and family and even some strangers have already begun raising funds to help with the cost of the transplant and post-transplant care.
“It’s going to be very expensive,” he said. “Not just the transplant, if it happens, but all the medications and post-op care you need after the surgery. It takes a lot of money.”
A lack of funds will not prevent Cole from receiving a transplant should a donor become available. But he said people at the Emory Transplant Center encourage patients to personally raise as much money as possible, both for their own care and the care of others awaiting transplants.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Cole said. “I want to do what I can to help myself and others. “
Cole says his personal support group is strong and he knows his efforts to overcome his latest challenge will be successful. “I’ve got the best family and friends anyone could ask for,” he said.
One of those friends, Jeremy Fuller, has known Cole since their time together at East Coweta.
These days, Fuller spends his weekends changing tires. But not on his personal vehicle. Fuller is among the select few who sling lug nuts for a living on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit. He works for Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing as a rear tire changer on the number 1 Bass Pro Shop car driven by Jamie McMurray.
“This is what I’d always dreamed of,” Fuller said. “And now I’m living my dream. It’s great.”
Fuller’s celebrity status as a NASCAR pit crew member has earned him 25,000 Twitter followers to date. He has already solicited help for Kyle from his Twitter followers, as well as his acquaintances in country music and NASCAR.
Fuller said Cole is also a talented musician and singer and will perform at the drop of a hat. Country music star Rodney Atkins has already sent out a plea for help, as has rising country music performer Tim Dugger, who often appears in Coweta County when he’s not traveling coast to coast with his band.
Fuller says he is thankful for the response so far, but is pleading for more help.
“My schedule is tight but I’m doing what I can to try and help Kyle and I’m asking other people to help, too,” Fuller said. “We used to hunt together and ride four-wheelers and he is a heck of a guy, but now he’s having a tough time. Kyle’s got dreams and goals just like I do, and I want to help him live the dream like I am.”
The news that Cole needed a double lung transplant didn’t come as a surprise, according to his older sister, Carissa DiBenedetto, who has been her brother’s primary caretaker for years.
“We always knew it would come to this,” DiBenedetto said. “That’s a natural step in the treatment of the disease once lung function decreases too much.”
After doctors said Cole would need a double lung transplant, he met with representatives of the Lung Transplant Foundation, DiBenedetto said. He was told that the two lungs he needs must come from the same donor and deceased persons are the only source. On the bright side, doctors said because of Cole’s physical build, he could accept lungs from either a male or female.
“That makes our odds better,” said DiBenedetto. “The average life expectancy after transplant is five years, but some people do a lot better. We think Kyle will do great.”
Cole was also told that the procedure would cost about $500,000. If a transplant match is found, treatment will not be withheld for lack of private funding, but potential transplant patients are asked to do as much as they can to raise funds to help defray the expense.
DiBenedetto said her brother has decided to try and raise it all.
“He set this crazy goal of $500,000 dollars, so that’s what we’re trying for,” she said. “We already working on it. And we have decided that if there is any money left, or if this doesn’t work out, any money we raise will go to the next person on the transplant list.”
As part of the fundraising and effort, Cole’s family has set up a website (http://www.newlungsforkyle.com). There is also a Facebook page named New Lungs For Kyle.
The website explains Cole’s condition, gives some personal background and asks for financial support from anyone willing to contribute.
There will be multiple fundraising events taking place that will be posted on the website via Facebook and Twitter. The events include a golf tournament, corn hole tournament, softball tournament, poker tournament and a run for CF. Dates and times will be posted and publicized. Donations may be made at any time at the website of Facebook page.
DiBenedetto said small local events have already raised more than $7,500 and the family is encouraged but still needs the public’s help.
“People have been very receptive and generous,” she said.
“We are so thankful for that and hope that we will raise even more. And not just for Kyle, but for everyone who suffers from this disease.”
Cole says if nothing else, he hopes to encourage other CF sufferers to never give up hope.
“I know my life expectancy is not the same as it is for other people, but I can’t dwell on that,” he said.
“Anything God puts in my way, I’m sure I’ll handle it. I try to act as if I don’t have it. It’s not a factor in what I do. People overcome things every day and that’s what I’m doing.”