WEST POINT -- Rex Andersen doesn't know what it's like to take in a big, deep breath of air, but he's hopeful things will change for him within the next year.
Andersen, 20, has cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive tract. He takes 20 different medications and undergoes two breathing treatments every day to keep at bay the ugly killer of young adults and children.
"It's hard to do these breathing treatments twice a day, because sometimes I want to stay out late with friends, but I can't because I have to do a treatment when I get home," Rex said. "It does suck that I have to leave things early most of the time, but if I don't want to get sick and go to the hospital, then I will do it."
Rex has had a rough road his whole life, said his father, Ralph Andersen, a teacher at Bonneville High School in Washington Terrace. Ongoing deterioration of his lungs has caused multiple hospital stays. When he was just 14, his doctors started to talk about transplant surgery, but because he was so young, the odds of survival were against him. Now that he's older, transplant surgery is definitely in his favor, with a survival rate of 98 percent.
"All I want is a chance to get on the table," said Rex, a Weber State University student who likes to hunt, fish, camp, hike and ride four-wheelers.
During an evaluation at University of Utah, doctors discovered Rex would need two lungs. Because the pressure in his liver is too high to withstand the lung transplant, he also will need a new liver.
Last July, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, Mo., called and asked if the family would be interested in having Rex evaluated as a candidate.
"After some research on our part and speaking with the transplant team at the U of U, we discovered we were going to the largest transplant center in the U.S.," Ralph Andersen said. "The hospital and medical school performs approximately one double lung transplant per week. Luck, miracles or blessings. You choose, because we definitely have an opinion."
Rex is now on the list, and the family will move to St. Louis and wait for a donor to match with Andersen.
"This waiting could be up to a year-and-a-half, depending on Rex's health and if and when a donor set of organs is made available," Ralph said. "Both the liver and lungs will come from the same donor."
The family is lucky their insurance will cover medical expenses. However, their living expenses will be costly, so fundraisers are being held to help with that cause.
Faculty members at Bonneville High School also are participating in fundraising efforts through the school's Laker to Laker program.
"Laker to Laker is a nonprofit organization that was started at Bonneville High School last year to help staff members in critical need," said Clark Hogan, a teacher and Laker to Laker committee member.
So far, the staff has raised a little more than $2,000 to help the family with living expenses. The next fundraiser will be Nov. 1 at the school.
Rex is excited at the prospect of being able to breathe normally one day.
"I feel that it (surgery) is necessary so I can survive and try to live a normal life," he said. "I'm excited to get it done, so I won't have to wear oxygen any more. I have to wear it all the time."
Fundraisers for Rex Andersen to help pay for living expenses in St. Louis, Mo., transplant and ongoing transplant medication:
What: T-REX Spaghetti Dinner
When: Nov. 1
Where: Bonneville High School, 251 E. Laker Way, Washington Terrace
Time: 6 p.m.
Cost: $25 per family, $10 for adults, $5 for students. Public is invited.
HOW TO DONATE:
Laker to Laker: 801-452-4050 or any Goldenwest Credit Union under the Laker to Laker account
Andersen Family: 801-776-3536
COTA.org (Children's Organ Transplant Organization) by referencing Rex Andersen or by contacting Joan Heslop, Rex's transplant chairwoman, 801-292-3449
Facebook: T-Rex Andersen