Lung transplant recipient now fighting another battle - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Lung transplant recipient now fighting another battle

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by Bryan Goettel

IOWA CITY (KWWL) - Since University of Iowa Hospitals brought back its transplant program, all 27 patients that have received lung transplants are still living.

It's an almost unheard of success rate.

Now one of those given a second chance at life wants to make sure the hospital takes advantage of its second chance.

Everywhere he goes to speak, Pete Wilgenbusch carries a picture.

"I can hardly think about her without getting choked up," Wilgenbusch said. "She didn't know me. I mean, she's 23. That's a youngster. What did she know?"

Wilgenbusch is referring to Erin Schoenard.  He and Schoenard never met. But she changed his life...by saving it.

"I got a present, a gift," Wilgenbusch said. "Now I'll go out and help somebody else."

A year and a half ago, Schoenard died following a long battle with bulimia. At the same time, Wilgenbusch was suffering from a genetic lung disorder...the same one that had already claimed the lives of three of his five siblings.

"I was a short-timer," Wilgenbusch said. "I had six, eight weeks at the most."

His only hope...a transplant.

"Those were your only options," Wilgenbusch said. "Either you go home and die or you transplant."

Today Pete Wilgenbusch is happy, healthy and doing what he does best. Talking.

"Our daughter was such a giving person and she'd be so happy that he's doing so well," Erin's father, Carl Schoenard, said.

Carl and Ann Schoenhard are Erin's parents. It's only the second time they've seen Wilgenbusch in person. They and board members from the American Lung Association are listening to Wilgenbusch talk about the importance of the UI transplant program and the importance of donating.

"Don't take your parts to heaven," Wilgenbusch said. "We need 'em."

The transplant program returned two years ago after a more than decade-long absence. Wilgenbusch wants to see more competitive pay for the surgeons so there isn't a repeat of what happened last time.

"They'll leave," Wilgenbusch said. "Somebody will offer 'em...we stole 'em from somebody else. They'll steal 'em from us."

That's why he talks. Brightening rooms wherever he goes...just as Erin's parents say she did. A legacy living on.

"Sitting in that meeting you could just see the room brightening up and I thought Erin is looking down on us," Erin's mother, Ann Schoenard, said.  "I mean she must be in this room with us."

"Their darkest day, losing a child, was my best," Wilgenbusch said.

Wilgenbusch worked as a farmer before getting sick.

His outlook was so grim before the transplant, he sold his equipment, his cattle and even some land.

He has since bought a tractor, bought cattle and is back farming again.

Pete Wilgenbusch isn't the only one who got help from Erin.  Her organs helped six other people.

The UI lung transplant program is the only approved program in the state.

Online Reporter: Bryan Goettel

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