You can’t know this man and not love him. Jim Blackstone is the epitome of a Real. Good. Man. As I write this, he protests, proving my point. There’s an incredible energy that surrounds him. His wife Linda calls it “His glow”. He’s provided inspiration, joyful gasps, and sighs of relief for hundreds of Atlanta Habitat for Humanity families whose homes were built under Jim’s watchful eye. Pause for a moment and take a deep breath. Jim Blackstone can’t do that anymore. He needs a lung transplant. And $50,000 to help pay for it.
In his words:
So back in 2012, I go in for my yearly physical. I get the same speech I get every year, the same one you probably get. You know, “quit smoking, lose weight, exercise,” all the stuff people from my generation are advised to do. He did an X-ray and says, “Everything looks good, your blood pressure’s good, cholesterol is good, you got a little fibrosis.” I blew right past the “little fibrosis” because he’s been my doctor for years and he didn’t make a big deal out of it, so I didn’t either. What’s fibrosis? I had no idea. But I quit smoking that year.
By the fall of 2014, I had started to lose a little weight, but I wasn’t feeling any better. I wondered, am I just getting old, fat and lazy? Linda, my beautiful bride of 25 years and I went on vacation to Florida, and we walked a lot. We went to a football game, but I was having a hard time getting back to the car from the stadium. I thought I had a respiratory infection. I like to give my body a chance to heal naturally, so I rode it out. I did eventually get a little bit better, but not much.
I got the diagnosis in January 2015. My doctor had retired. The new Doc looks at my chart, sees the “little fibrosis”, orders new x-rays and immediately set up an appointment with Dr. Amy Case, an angel from God working here on earth as a leading research pulmonologist. Amy does an MRI and a bunch of other tests and diagnoses idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable disease. When you google it, it tells you to get your affairs in order. You’ve got 3-5 years. There’s nothing that can be done.
My gorgeous Linda is heartbroken, the kids are stunned, I’m scared. We get to googling what can we do and find out that there are drugs that slow the progression, but they cost $100,000 a year and only available in countries like Japan and Denmark. So, we’re thinking we’re going to sell everything we’ve got and move to another part of the world and see what we can do, because what other choice do you have if you want to live?
But turns out, in October of 2014, the drugs are on the FDA approval track and Amy, as a research pulmonologist, connected me with foundations and manufacturers who supported her research and I was able to get help in getting the medicine. The new drug slowed the disease’s progression. I didn’t miss any work, which is good, because I love what I do. I’m grateful for the five years it gave me. But now, the doctors tell me, I have to get a lung transplant. I pray about it and figure that’s what God wants me to do.
First thing, I had to lose weight. No more tacos. No bread. Gave up the good stuff. You’ve got to prove that you’re on this journey for real. You’ve got to have a caregiver who is strong in all kinds of ways. That’s Linda. She’ll cry when a song she loves comes on the radio but don’t mess with this woman! She is here for me every step of the way. Long story short, Duke University Hospital called to accept me into their transplant program. So, here we go. We’re off to see the wizard, and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got. I do think, once again, this is all a part of God’s plan and I’ve just got to smile and stay positive, keep the Faith, and keep going. One way or the other, this is the journey I’m supposed to be on. I’m going to see it through.
I read a poem way back when I was in college, and it was about life and living. It was Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas. And that poem hit me. It was poignant when I read it then, and is even more so these days. Don’t you quit; don’t you give up. You fight. So, I wake up every day giving thanks for the chance to live. Every day is a blessing. I’m in a good place.
I need to raise some money to cover the things that my incredible insurance company and my savings won’t cover. In case things don’t go as we’re hoping, I don’t want to spend all our savings and leave my wife penniless and my family stressed. I need to make sure that she’s going to be okay if things don’t work out. This journey is not worth taking if it puts her and my kids at risk.
The folks at Duke strongly suggested I start a Go Fund Me page and told me how generous people are. They say I need to raise $50,000. It’s humbling to have to ask, but for my wife and family, and for my life, I am asking for help. I guess that’s part of the journey too.
So I can breathe easy.
As Jim shared his health journey with me, I realized his words were powerful and intensely personal. As he began this part of his journey, I shared with him how my son would not be alive without the support of generous people who gave through Go Fund Me. When my son needed a bone marrow transplant, it truly took a village to make it happen. It is a blessing and an honor to be able to help Jim and his lovely family. If you are able, please join me in giving. Spread the word to others. Please keep Jim and his family in your thoughts and prayers as they face the coming challenges. Take a deep breath and give thanks that you can do that. My prayer is that Jim will soon be able to breathe deeply, easily and gratefully with a little help from us all. Thank you.