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2 lung transplants save Wisconsin man’s life

January 15, 2018

This Jan. 4, 2018 photo, Kaj Anderson and his wife Mary are photographed in Beloit, Wis. The couple are thankful to two donor families. Kaj had a lung transplant in October which failed, but was able to obtain another lung. Since his second transplant, Kaj is recovering and his body seems to be accepting the lung. (Hillary Gavan/The Beloit Daily News via AP)

BELOIT, Wis. (AP) — Guitarist and human services provider Kaj Anderson is a walking miracle.

After he received a failed lung transplant in October, the 69-year-old received a second lung hours before he was to be taken off life support.

“We are thankful to supportive friends, UW Hospitals and the families of two donors,” Anderson told the Beloit Daily News .

Kaj Anderson and his wife Mary Anderson are celebrating his miraculous recovery as they prepare for a “Mega Jam” fundraiser in his honor. The Dave Potter trio is hosting the event Sunday, Jan. 21 at Grand Avenue Pub. All are invited to “breathe the sounds of Kaj Anderson and company.” People will be able to enjoy 50/50 raffles, a silent auction and the chance to win a guitar from Paradise Guitars.

The Andersons are thankful their journey is getting better. Kaj Anderson, the father of four and one who passed away, had always enjoyed good health. He also has grandchildren and great grand-kids. He needed his strength for his job as a behavioral clinician, working with the severely mentally ill at Janesville and Beloit Community Support programs through Rock County Human Services.

His wife of 37 years, Mary Anderson, is a close companion. The two share a love of family, music and their special parrot they raised for 28 years. The two suffered a devastating loss when their first daughter passed away from cystic fibrosis in 1986, but Kaj Anderson remained strong and patient.

The couple suffered another blow 2 ½ years ago when Kaj Anderson was diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis with fibrosis. The lung disease was caused by an immune response to an unknown antigen. The condition can be caused by breathing in allergens such as dust or hay.

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis has been referred to as bird breeder’s lung and mushroom picker’s disease in specific occupations with a risk of HP from biological dusts. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, proteins in the dander, urine, or saliva of warm-blooded animals can sensitize individuals and lead to allergic reactions or trigger asthmatic episodes. Warm-blooded animals include dogs, cats, birds and rodents, according to cdc.gov.

The autoimmune response in Kaj Anderson’s lungs was resulting in tissue dying. It became increasingly difficult to breathe as his lungs became filled with scar tissue and fibroids. Although various medications were tried, nothing could slow down the deterioration of his lungs.

Although it’s not confirmed, some of his doctors suspect he was reacting to dander exposure from the African grey parrot the couple had for close to 30 years. The Andersons had to make the painful decision to give their bird to Feathered Friends Bird Sanctuary in Stoughton. They were also advised to remove all carpets and have the furnace and duct work in their homes cleaned out.

Kaj Anderson was placed on a transplant list for 11 weeks before receiving his first lung on Oct. 10. However, two days later a CAT scan showed the lung wasn’t working, as it had a faulty valve.

After an unsuccessful surgery to remedy the problem, doctors said his blood supply in the transplanted lung was diminishing. He would need to be placed on life support to help him breathe and put in an induced coma to keep him from struggling against his oxygen tube.

After two weeks Kaj Anderson’s family would be faced with the difficult decision to have him taken off life support as doctors said his body was shutting down.

By the night before that decision would have to be made, what the family called a second miracle had happened. Another lung was secured for Kaj Anderson. After his second surgery on Oct. 17, it appeared the lung was working.

Kaj Anderson was able to get off life support. It appeared his body was accepting the new organ. Kaj Anderson still had many obstacles. He had to learn to walk, talk, eat and drink again as he lost the ability to perform all bodily functions while in his coma and lost muscle.

However, with daily physical therapy he slowly relearned to basic tasks. He has started the journey of ongoing therapy and the reduction of his more than 20 medications. Although he has nurse and therapy visits, he is finally back home and on the mend. His wife credits his swift recovery to the patience and determination he has learned in his job, as well as the miracle of the human body.

Kaj Anderson is hoping to be back to work by February. Although his hands are still a bit shaky, he’s hoping to strum the guitar at his upcoming fundraiser.

The Andersons can’t thank the donor families enough for the two life-saving lungs. Even though the first lung was faulty, they stress it kept Kaj Anderson alive long enough to get the second one. He’s has written letters to both donor families who will have the opportunity to decide if they want to meet or correspond with Kaj Anderson in the future.

“There will never be enough ‘thank-yous,’” he said.

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Information from: Beloit Daily News, http://www.beloitdailynews.com

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