Koelsch family

Sarah Koelsch rests her head on her husband, Don, in this recent photo. As a result of the novel coronavirus, Don Koelsch will need a double lung transplant. The family hopes their plight can raise awareness of the importance of COVID-19 and organ donation.

When Don and Sarah Koelsch made the decision to uproot their life and move to Winfield in June, they were excited to start over and have more time together as a family.  But as life often goes, a wrench was thrown into their plans. 

Don was given the opportunity to attend school through Witte Brother’s Trucking while the family resided in Vermont. They packed their home up and made the long journey with their daughter, Amelia, 11.

Shortly after completing driving school, Don contracted COVID-19. 

That was just the tip of the iceberg though. 

After 12 days of battling the disease in the hospital, Don Koelsch, 38, returned home, only to have even more complications. He returned to the hospital and was diagnosed with double pneumonia

Pneumonia, a very serious infection of the lungs, is a common result of COVID-19.

Unfortunately, Koelsch also has had an autoimmune disease for the last decade, Antisynthetase syndrome with Polymyositis, a rare, chronic disorder that can affect multiple systems of the body. 

The combinations of Koelsch’s medical problems have since caused his autoimmune disease to progress. He is now battling interstitial lung disease, severe arthritis, muscle death and pulmonary fibrosis. 

Physicians were unable to get the interstitial lung disease under control and his body has not responded to any of their treatments or medications. 

All of the efforts to stop the autoimmune disease from destroying  Koelsch’s lungs were unsuccessful, and the decision was made for him to undergo a double lung transplant. 

Koelsch is currently awaiting a new (to him) set of lungs at Barnes- Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. 

On Dec. 2, the novel coronavirus  was once again discovered during his evaluations for his transplant.  Fortunately, doctors believe this could just be, “leftover antibodies” from September when Koelsch first contracted the virus. 

He has to wait for his new lungs until he tests negative for COVID-19.

After a month in the hospital, Koelsch is more than ready to be back at home with his family. 

But the battle has only begun, for he will officially be unemployed and out of Family Medical Leave on Dec. 12. 

The bills are starting to arrive and the family is struggling to keep afloat during this difficult time. Don’s wife, Sarah will have to provide around the clock care for him once he returns home as well as care for the couple’s daughter. 

Despite adversity, Sarah is only grateful.

“We would like to thank all of our doctors and nurses. They have gone above and beyond for us. You’ve all been nothing short of amazing,” she said. 

Amelia was finally able to see her father just a few days ago as a result of the nurses making a special exception for them to enjoy dinner together. The family was able to have a sense of normalcy for just an evening. 

The family has a long road ahead of them but remains hopeful and looking forward to planting their roots in the Lincoln County soil. 

“Everyone has shown so much love here,” Sarah said. “We can’t thank people enough for their prayers and support. This organ donation is a gift and another chance at life for Don. We are so grateful.”

Almost 114,000 people in the United States are currently on the waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant. One deceased donor can save up to eight  lives through organ donation and can enhance more than 100 lives through the gift of tissue donation. 

On average, 20 people perish everyday from the lack of available organs for transplant and another name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. 

As for the Koelsch family, their long journey back to normalcy has just begun, but with enough love and support from the community, they hope they can regain their footing.  

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the family with impending medical bills and to ease the burden of a lost income and health insurance.

For more information regarding organ donation please visit americantransplantfoundation.org.