David Kransberger, 56, is a father of six. He was having trouble keeping up with his children and became very short of breath. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Her symptoms included coughing up blood. After a trip to the emergency room, tests confirmed the unimaginable: stage 4 lung cancer in both lungs. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
“All I could think of was taking care of my wife, Kathy, and our children,” he said. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Kransberger met with Reda Girgis, MD, medical director of the Spectrum Health lung transplant program. Dr Girgis believed he was a candidate for a lung transplant. “I thought they were laughing at me,” he said. “I knew my situation was bad.” (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
His body began to fail and he went beyond limited lung capacity. His time was running out. But on Father’s Day, Kransberger got a phone call. He had made the list of transplants. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Still, knowing he might have to wait awhile for a game, he told Kathy that they needed to go to the funeral home and schedule his service. That same night he received the call: he had lungs. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
On July 26, Kransberger became the first Spectrum Health patient to receive a lung transplant to treat lung cancer. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
During a Christmas vacation in the Cayman Islands in 2019, David Kransberger knew something was wrong.
“I was on a turtle watching expedition with my 5 and 6 year old children,” he said. “We were in the ocean and it should have been so easy to hold them while we were floating. But I was so out of breath that I thought I was going to sink.
As soon as they returned to Grand Rapids, the 56-year-old teacher called to make an appointment with the doctor.
He explained his symptoms, which now included coughing up blood.
“They said, ‘You don’t have to come to the office. Go straight to the emergency room, ”he said.
The tests confirmed the unimaginable: stage 4 lung cancer in both lungs.
Looking for solutions
Kransberger is the father of six children, aged 5 to 28.
He had been healthy and athletic his entire life. He coached high school lacrosse and the Special Olympics.
“All I could think of was taking care of my wife, Kathy, and our children,” he said.
He did what many cancer patients do after a diagnosis: he started looking for solutions.
“I had friends at Johns Hopkins University who were looking for things for me, and at Princeton,” he said. “I even went to see a doctor at Indiana University. They all agreed that the treatment I was getting at Spectrum Health was the right one. “
He still couldn’t fully accept that he was suffering from a terminal illness. He asked about the possibility of a lung transplant and learned that cancer is usually the first disqualifier. He had a first meeting with Reda Girgis, MD, medical director of Spectrum Health Lung transplant program.
Kransberger hadn’t planned much.
“I thought they made me happy,” he said. “I had already started chemo and knew my situation was bad.”
But a few days later, Dr Girgis called him.
“He told me that he spoke to my oncologist and that because my cancer was all in my lungs he believed I was a candidate for the transplant.”
Then came a flurry of meetings and testing, led by Jennifer Hartman, RN, Pre-Transplant Coordinator for Spectrum Health.
In addition to extensive testing, usually over a two to four week period, transplant applicants are assessed by a committee that determines who makes the list.
“Transplantation is not suitable for all patients,” Hartman said. “In Dave’s case, it was seen as the only healing hope. There was no chemotherapy option that would work.
But even as the transplant team continued with their assessments, the cancer clock was ticking.
“I had finished my last chemo sessions and was told there was not much more they could do for me,” he said.
He body began to fail. He went beyond limited lung capacity.
“I had previously had neuropathy in my foot,” he said. “And I had lost some hearing in my left ear.”
On Father’s Day, Kransberger received an incredible phone call: he learned he had made the list of transplants.
Although he and Kathy were feeling excited, he also knew that making the list was no guarantee of getting an organ on time.
Life estimates 8,000 people die while waiting.
And Kransberger’s condition worsened. One morning in July, he told Kathy that they had to go to the funeral home and schedule her service.
“My lung capacity was so limited,” he said. “And I knew I was near the end.”
That night, a member of the hospital team called.
“They told me they had lungs for me,” he said. “We couldn’t believe how miraculous it was.”
“It’s just a waiting game,” Hartman said. “The stars have to align – and this time they did. We started his assessment in April, enrolled him in June, and he was transplanted six weeks later.
On July 26, Kransberger became the first Spectrum Health patient to receive a lung transplant to treat lung cancer.
After five days in intensive care, Kransberger gradually learned to trust his new lungs. Soon after, he found himself home, biking, playing with his children, and taking long walks.
He said COVID-19 made the experience particularly difficult.
“It was loneliness,” he said. “People kept calling and asking what they could do to help and we had to ask them to stay away. And with all the kids at home for distance learning, it was very difficult.
He took a leave of absence from his job at Kentwood Public Schools.
“Because of my new lungs I’m at risk,” he said.
And while he acknowledges that COVID-19 complicated matters last year, he also said the pandemic has forced his family to adopt a new pace that is suitable for his recovery.
“We listen to each other more. We play board games, ”he said. “We have learned to be together and it is an incredible gift.”