One breath at a time
Lung transplant the only hope for Justin Burke
Published: Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
Two years ago, the average day for Justin Burke consisted of going to work, coming home, playing with his kids and doing other things that a normal, active 31-year-old would do.
Two years later, Burke is fighting for his life.
That’s because Burke, 33, has been diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF)—a disease in which tissue deep in the lungs becomes thick and stiff or scarred. The formation of the scar tissue is called fibrosis.
There is no cure for IPF and doctors aren’t even sure what causes it. What they do know is that if Burke doesn’t receive a double lung transplant, he will die within the next few years.
“If you put 10 different doctors in a room, you get 10 different opinions,”âï¿½ï¿½said Burke’s wife, Vesi, on what causes the disease.
In the fall of 2012, Burke finally went to the doctor after experiencing shortness of breath for the better part of a year. He was diagnosed with a viral infection in his lungs, given medication and told it would take several months before it cleared up.
Burke worked for May Construction in Custer for the better part of 10 years prior to his diagnosis. When work stopped in the winter of 2012 he and his wife traveled to Mexico with his boss for a vacation, and he didn’t feel any signficant difference. However, when he returned to work that spring and summer, he noticed his breathing problems were getting progressively worse. After consulting with his local doctor he was referred to a specialist in Rapid City, who delievered the bad news.
“It sucked,”âï¿½ï¿½Burke said of hearing he had IPF. “Especially when they tell you right off the bat there is no treatment.”
Burke was no stranger to IPF. The same disease had taken his father, Patrick, at the age of 53.
Burke said his doctor was in shock that he was still working in his condition, telling Burke his lungs were operating at a third of their capacity. He was immediately put on oxygen and forced to quit work. The fight for life was officially beginning.
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