Breathing in New Life: Taylor dairy farmer receives lung transplant
Life can change in the matter of an instant. On the morning of December 26, Steve Kling felt his life change with one phone call. At 4:15 a.m., Kling was notified he would receive a lung transplant after battling Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF).
Steve and Patricia Kling on their 50-cow dairy farm after he received a life-saving lung transplant on December 26. Steve is the president of the Jackson County Farm Bureau.
“I had trouble breathing for nearly six years,” said Kling, who has a herd of 50 cows near Taylor. “Last winter and spring was when it had gotten worse.”
Originally identified as farmer’s lung, Kling had gone years under the impression he was suffering from a condition caused by repeated exposure to dust inhalation resulting in lung inflammation. As his symptoms worsened, however, he knew it was time to take a closer look.
It was at Black River Memorial Hospital in Black River Falls where Kling first came to terms with the severity of his condition. Following a chest x-ray, his doctor reported what he had seen.
“I could tell by the look on his face that it wasn’t good,” Kling said. “He told me it was very bad and referred me to a pulmonary specialist at Gunderson Lutheran in La Crosse.”
Being a farmer, however, Kling warned them he had obligations on his dairy. While his wife, Pat, took on chores within the barn, Kling still took care of the field work.
“I wanted to get my corn planted and first crop hay done. Once it was done, I was able to get in in mid-June,” Kling said.
Kling was diagnosed with IFP following a lung biopsy preformed on his right lung. Pulmonary Fibrosis is a disease that causes tissue deep within the lung to stiffen and scar over time. In cases where the cause is unknown, it is recognized as idiopathic. Kling began using an oxygen tank and a concentrator when working in the field.
After going to Gunderson Lutheran, Kling was once again referred to University Hospital in Madison, where the discussion of a transplant began to move forward in September. In order to be put on the transplant list to receive a new left lung, Kling had to be of the highest mental and physical heath possible.
To determine his eligibility, Kling, Pat and their daughter, Sarah, spent four days at the Madison hospital under intense testing and analysis. Once on the transplant list, Kling would no longer be able to take modified virus vaccines. He was updated on all shots and vaccinations during this time.
“It was certainly an extensive process, but once everything was completed in December, the time came to determine if I would be put on a transplant list,” Kling said.
Kling was in respiratory therapy on December 23 when Pat received notice that Kling was going to be listed that day. The transplant coordinator told them there were 25 candidates on the list, but Kling was the only one of his blood type.
“They told us to pack our bags, as it could go quite quickly,” Kling said. “Even with that notice, we barely had time to prepare ourselves for what was next.”
When the phone rang on the morning of December 26, Kling knew it had to be something big.
“The transplant coordinator said, ‘We have a lung’,” Kling said. “From there, we had 3.5 hours to get to Madison.”
Kling and his family arrived at the hospital at 7:30 a.m. He was then prepped and waiting in the pre-operating room as surgeon Dr. Jim Maloney examined the lung for any possible complications. Once he deemed it safe to proceed, the rest moved quickly.
Steve Kling looks out over his farm after returning to his home on January 13. Unable to complete barn chores on his own, he is hopeful he will find a young couple to help transition ownership of the herd.
“It was just like a scene from the movies,” Kling said. “The surgeon came out and said, ‘It’s a go.’ It was time for hugs and kisses and they were taking me back.”
The surgery went smoothly and by 7:30 p.m., Kling was awake. He said it was nothing short of amazing.
“It really felt like a dream. During the surgery, I was on a breathing machine. Once they took out the tube, I was breathing on my own. I didn’t need oxygen anymore,” Kling said.
Kling spent nine days in the hospital and another eight in a hotel nearby. During this time, Kling was able to connect with other transplant recipients and those on the waiting list, which he said was an eye-opening experience.
“Before the transplant, it was hard to find someone who had had a lung transplant. Madison does about 50 lung transplants a year, and there were several who had them recently and were recovering in the area,” Kling said.
In the six weeks since the surgery, Kling has been impressed with how well his body has taken to the change. With how soon he was able to get the lung transplant, he said he wasn’t entirely sure what he had expected to happen.
“We really didn’t have much time to think about and research the whole process because it was right over Christmas,” Kling said. “It is quite a coordinated effort to get everything in place, and to have it go so well.”
Although Kling’s body has taken well to the new organ, there is still a long road of checkups and appointments in his future. He is thankful for the support of his family, friends and community, as well as the talent of his medical team.
“I really need to thank Dr. Jim Maloney and his team in Madison,” Kling said. “Everything was done so precisely, so efficiently; it’s amazing what they can do.”
Just as importantly, Kling is thankful for the donor’s family and their incredible generosity.
“Without this donation of such a gift, none of this would have taken place and prolonged my life to enjoy with family and friends. To you, I am truly grateful,” Kling said. “I hope anyone who reads this will also consider organ donation. Let family members know your wishes, put the orange dot on your drivers’ license or sign up online at YesIWillWisconsin.com.”
Although he must be careful, Kling looks forward to returning to the fields come spring. As for the dairy, however, he and his wife are currently seeking out couples who might have an interest in caring for the cows.
“I can no longer do the barn chores, but I’d like to keep working with the crops,” Kling said. “I’d really like to find a couple who has that interest in buying the cows and help them get farming.”
It may have been a long road to get here, but Kling is grateful for his Christmas miracle.
“It was a good enough gift to be put on the list before Christmas,” Kling said. “But, with this lung, I can truly say I received the greatest gift of all.”
Original article appeared in Dairy Star newspaper. It was reprinted with permission in the April/May 2016 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route. Story and photos by Cassie Olson.