FLOYDS KNOBS —
David Keller will never forget the early Father’s Day gift he received in 2007. It wasn’t a necktie or a monogrammed shirt, but the gift of life.
On June 2, 2007, Keller, a Floyds Knobs resident, received a double lung transplant at Jewish Hospital in Louisville. And while he was only given five years to live at the time — a deadline he only snickers at now — he continues to live each day to the fullest.
“There are no money-back guarantees [with the transplant surgery],” Keller said with a laugh. “I am doing great. I have got to enjoy six more Father’s Days since the transplant. That is better than winning the lottery.”
Keller, 66, has been slowed recently by an ankle injury he received while playing basketball. He also deals with diabetes and a kidney ailment. But overall, Keller said he feels great. He takes eight pills a day, mainly anti-rejection medicine, which is down from the 20 pills he took daily following his transplant.
Keller is now on a mission — to spread the word about the importance of donating organs. He said statistics prove one person can save eight lives by donating organs. He said after reading recently about a 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl being denied adult lungs because of a state law that said she is too young, he decided it was time to once again share his passion on the subject. The girl finally received her transplant last week.
“Why shouldn’t somebody be given a second chance?” he asked. “It’s so important that people donate life. That little girl couldn’t get lungs for whatever reason; that is just ridiculous.”
Keller developed pulmonary fibrosis after working in a factory for 32 years. The disease involves scarring of the lungs. Over time, the air sacs of the lungs become replaced by fibrotic tissue. When the scar forms, the tissue becomes thicker, causing an irreversible loss of the tissue’s ability to transfer oxygen into the bloodstream.
Keller said the disease was dormant inside his lungs for 20 years, and being exposed to certain chemicals at his job site led to the illness. He did not want to name the company during the first interview on his one-year anniversary, only to say it was located in Louisville. He said he was unable to recoup money from a negligence lawsuit because of a statute-of-limitations issue.
But Keller never blamed anyone, and instead of hanging his head and asking “why me,” he maintains a positive attitude when telling his story.
“I am able to witness to people about how precious life is. A lot of people take it for granted,” he said. “It doesn’t do any good to feel sorry for myself. Look what God has done for me ... he has given me life.”
Keller said saving a life is as simple as signing the back of your driver’s license, making out a living will and telling loved ones of your wishes. He said thankfully, a 23-year-old man from Wichita, Kan., said yes to organ donation, which is why he is still alive today.
“People are now in hospitals waiting for a transplant. Eighteen people die every day waiting,” he said. “There is no way I can express my gratitude to my donor except through living, enjoying life and spreading the word about organ donation.”
Keller said he has gotten great support from his three children, seven grandchildren and the congregation at Safe Harbor Christian Church in Henryville.
Keller doesn’t listen to naysayers and is not one to give up. He traveled to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and the University of Kentucky medical centers, but neither would perform a lung transplant in 2007, which was the only thing that could save his life.
Because of the aggressiveness of the disease, the only thing that kept Keller alive was a ventilator. He eventually had the operation performed at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, where he stayed for 96 days. From March 31, 2007, until the day of his operation on June 2, Keller had nothing to eat or drink — being fed through an IV — and could only stare at the calendar and clock, waiting for a pair of lungs.
He finally got his lungs and a second chance at life, and is now determined to make the most of it.
“I love life. I wasn’t ready to give up,” he said. “Life is good. It’s important to get the word out to people. They have the ability to save lives.”