LANGLOIS - Oregon coast native Jeremy Rhodes was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of 4. He's now 43, which is "old" for someone with the disease.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes lung damage, persistent infections and eventually respiratory failure. He has endured countless hospitalizations, while in between taking multiple medications, I.V. antibiotics and daily treatments in order to delay the inevitable loss of lung function.
After graduating from Pacific High School, Rhodes entered college. But with classrooms full of fellow students, the colds and flus repeatedly took their toll and landed him in hospital, said his mother Holly McLeod Armstrong.
He became proficient in Aikido. The mental training of the art form helped him find balance as he struggled with his disease.
As cystic fibrosis took a toll on his body, Rhodes adapted and pursued his other interests.
"Music has always been a passion and came to fruition when he learned how to play the West African djembe drum and drummed with a group who performed traditional West African dances," Armstrong said. "He has enjoyed performing with local musicians and has produced a CD with a local folk band."
He took up archery and with his innate attention to detail, learned how to fletch his own arrows, creating one-of-a-kind designer arrows bearing his unique artistic touch.
"Jeremy's belief in, 'When I do what I can, God will do what I can't,' has proven true time and time again," Armstrong said. "With the help of his medical team, advances in medicine, courage, determination and a heart full of faith, as well as the love and prayers of others, Jeremy has kept moving forward in his life."
But despite all that a person does, cystic fibrosis is a thief.
And now the day has come. No amount of courage and determination can overcome this disease and his need for new lungs. Rhodes has been accepted into the transplant program at the University of Washington, Seattle and has been placed on the waiting list for a bilateral lung transplant.
The cost of the surgery will be covered by insurance. But the other out of pocket costs have been and will continue to be significant, Armstrong said. Rhodes and his two caregivers have been traveling from their remote home in the hills of Langlois Mountain 15 miles south of Bandon to Seattle for evaluations and preparation for the transplant. Due to distance and Rhodes' failing health, the trip must be broken up into days of travel and days of rest, incurring costs for airfare and hotel rooms.
After lung transplant surgery, Rhodes and his caregivers are required to stay in Seattle for a minimum of three months. They will be staying in an apartment complex designed for transplant recipients and their caregivers. The cost will be $3,000 a month. Afterwards, there will be trips back and forth for follow-up care.
Rhodes and his family have partnered with the Children's Organ Transplant Association to raise funds to assist with transplant-related expenses. COTA helps children and adults with cystic fibrosis who need a life-saving transplant, by providing fundraising assistance and family support. They walk alongside the patient and their family lending support for as long as they are needed.
"There's a lot of misunderstanding and fear about organ donations," Armstrong said. "But it gives people a second chance at life."
COTA is the nation's only fundraising organization solely dedicated to rising life-saving dollars in honor of transplant-needy children and their families. One hundred percent of each contribution assists with transplant-related expenses, honoring the patients that need their help. The organization also provides oversight of dispersed funds. COTA's services are free to the families and gifts are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
"Every single expression of your heartfelt support and your prayers are felt here on Langlois Mountain," Armstrong said. "You can’t possibly know the positive effect it has on us. We appreciate every email you send, every word of encouragement, every donation big and small. It takes a village!"