Lungs for Ryleighs Daddy

Nicholas Hemmerle received new lungs in a double-lung transplant earlier this month. The procedure took place at the Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville, Fla., campus. I’m happy to report he’s doing well.


The transplant was the latest in a series of medical procedures Nicky has undergone. In addition to being complicated, they have also been very expensive. We will need your help if we are to cover Nicky’s previous medical expenses, the transplant, and the medical care that’s still to come as he recovers.  


We have relocated to an apartment near the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville so Nicholas can continue recuperating from the transplant and still be close to the hospital. The doctors say we can expect to spend four months at the apartment. In the meantime, Nicholas still has the expense of maintaining his home in the Savannah area. The post-operative recovery process requires Nicholas to take 45 distinct medications every day and to have someone with him at all times. As his mother, I’ve assumed the role of primary caregiver when he’s not under a doctor’s immediate care.  

When Nicholas returns home, his house will require some modifications to accommodate his medical needs. That will be an added expense. 

Let me tell you his story right from the beginning. Nicholas was born with cystic fibrosis. That’s a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. The disease is believed to be triggered by a defective gene that causes a thick, sticky buildup of mucus in the lungs, the pancreas and other organs. 


Nicholas was admitted to a hospital for the first time at the age of three months. Doctors hooked him up to many, many tubes while they tried to figure out what was wrong with him. Finally, the doctors and the State of Florida decided I must be guilty of child endangerment. When I heard this, I scooped up my son and got on the first Amtrak train bound for Georgia. My parents lived there, and I knew if I could just get my baby boy up to my parents’ house, all would be well. Or, at least better than things were in Florida. We got off the train late that night and made our way to my parents’ house. Early the next morning, we drove to Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah. We thought the doctors would admit him, but they decided not to since Nicky seemed to be doing better. Instead, they sent us to a hospital in Augusta, Ga. It was there that he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. 

That was scary! What in the world was cystic fibrosis and how did I give this disease to my baby? Well, it’s a genetic disease and it turns out his daddy and I both carry the gene. Now Nicky’s brother, Joshua, and Nicky’s daughter, Ryleigh, are both carriers of the disease. 

Nicky has battled cystic fibrosis for 34 years. Eight times doctors told me he was going to die. They also said he couldn’t have children. They were wrong about that, too. Today, he has Ryleigh, a beautiful, seven-year-old daughter. I can tell you story after story about how hard we all worked to keep Nicky healthy and about the many sacrifices he had to make over the course of his life. I did my best to raise him as a healthy, normal boy who would grow into a man I’d be proud of. He works at Gulfstream Aerospace today as a lead finisher. He and his brother share the house. That’s good because it means my boys are looking out for each other. 

In 2015, Nick’s health took a turn for the worse. His lungs began to bleed. Doctors atAugusta Univercity  put him on life support. He fought his condition for nine days—and survived. But in the process, his lungs became so depleted that the only alternative was a double-lung transplant. On April 29, 2015, when we left Emory, I was so scared. But then God reminded me that Nicky has survived all these years and he also survived the prospect of drowning in his own blood. So, once again, I was convinced. We will survive this!


Nicky was hospitalized again on Nov. 18. This time, he said he wanted to go to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville to see if they could help him get his new lungs as soon as possible. We couldn’t afford to find accommodations in Jacksonville, so, for the next two weeks, we drove from Savannah to Jacksonville every morning for a day of extensive testing. 

Nicky was happy with the care his doctors were providing. That convinced him to have the transplant performed there. We had scheduled a meeting with his doctors for Feb. 14, 2016. The doctors told us they would decide then whether to submit our case to the medical board for consideration for surgery. On our last day there, the doctors told us they had decided to bring our case to the board the next day. At 5 p.m. the next day, we learned that Nicky had been put on the list for a transplant. 

We got the call Monday, Dec. 18. The Mayo Clinic had the lungs. Come right away. We started out for Jacksonville. We were more than halfway when a second call came. After further examination, the doctors were concerned that the lungs they had were too large for Nicky’s chest cavity. So they elected not to proceed with the transplant. That was a very emotional moment for both of us. We turned the car around and drove back to Savannah. It took more than a day to come to terms with everything that had happened.


And then, the call came again. It was 3 a.m. on January 2, 2018. We have suitable lungs. Come right away. We jumped in the car and began driving south. We arrived at the hospital at 5 a.m. The medical staff prepped Nicky for surgery. He went into surgery at 11:30 a.m. the same day. The procedure took nearly 12 hours. Doctors removed his diseased lungs and inserted the new lungs in their place.  

Nicky tolerated the surgery very well. The recovery has been basically smooth. So far, all goes well. 

I want to thank everyone who has been in Nick’s life from the day of his birth until today. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! He has been given a priceless gift—an opportunity to have new lungs, to breathe normally, something we all take for granted. It’s been an honor to have both of my boys in my life. If I could trade places with Nicky I would do it without hesitation. I know Nick could not have gotten this far in life without the prayers of his mom and dad, and my pastor, Julie Stanley.


Thank you to everyone who has touched our lives. I love you all!
Karen  Davidson (Nicky's Mom)







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Karen Kaiser Davidson 
Savannah, GA
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