By STEVEN NALLEY
Darrell Bland is calm for someone dealing with a serious respiratory condition.
Bland, warehouse manager at United Produce in Starkville, said he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in April 2011, and average life expectancy for patients like him is two years after diagnosis. Bland is on a list at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. for a double lung transplant.
“When suitable lungs become available, they only have a four-hour window to get them out of the donor and into the recipient,” Bland said. “Once I get close enough on the transplant list, they’ll call and want me to move down there and wait for lungs to become available.”
Bland said he is not as worried about his condition as he is about the wait, even though waiting doesn’t keep him on edge either.
“Worry is a waste of effort,” Bland said. “I just hope I don’t have to wait too long after I get to Jacksonville to get the transplant. That’s the fuzzy part. Away from family, away from work, with nothing to do but wait for the phone to ring ... That’s the part that’s going to bore me to death.”
Restaurants across Starkville are giving Bland a few less reasons to worry by raising funds March 5-11 to assist Bland with costs associated with his surgery, treatment and the move to Jacksonville.
Veranda owner Jay Yates is spearheading the fundraiser as president of the Golden Triangle Restaurant Association, but both Yates and Bland said the idea began with The Little Dooey founder Barry Wood. The week centers around a Darrell Day on Wednesday, Yates said, and at the end of the fundraiser, each restaurant will write a check based on a portion of its sales for the week and donate it to Bland.
Yates said participating restaurants include Cappe’s, Oby’s, Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern, City Bagel Cafe and The Little Dooey. They also include all of Ty Thames’ restaurants — Restaurant Tyler, Zorba’s Greek Tavern, Bin 612 and the Rock Bottom Grill — and all of Starkville’s Eat With Us restaurants — Harvey’s, Central Station Grill, Sweet Peppers Deli and Bulldog Deli. He said people at several of these restaurants work with Bland on a regular basis.
“I’ve known Darrell since 1997, when I moved here,” Yates said. “I think it’s a great cause. (After Woods contacted me,) I just got on the horn and started calling a lot of these guys that are in the restaurant association and locally owned guys that are in the community and know Darrell. I haven’t had one person I’ve talked to say ‘No’ yet. There may be other ones participating.”
Yates said Bland’s health insurance will pay for much of the transplant itself, but some out-of-pocket expenses remain. Moving to Jacksonville to wait for the surgery and rehabilitate for months afterward will add to those costs, Yates said.
“He’s got to relocate, and he won’t be working,” Yates said. “That’s what he needs help with.”
Bland said medication costs will also continue long after the surgery.
“They tell me when I get out of Jacksonville, I’ll be on 6-8 medications for the rest of my life,” Bland said. “They put you on 15 medicines when you get out of surgery. (If) you’ve got a co-pay of $15-20 per medication times 15 medications, you’re looking at a truck payment there. The first few months, the pharmacy bill will be pretty healthy.”
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, pulmonary fibrosis results from damaged and scarred lung tissue. As this tissue grows thicker and stiffer, patients grow more short of breath. Other symptoms listed on the site include a dry cough, fatigue, weight loss and aching muscles and joints.
Doctors can rarely pinpoint the cause, and Bland said they could not do so in his case. The site lists smoking, middle age and genes as risk factors. Bland, 57, said he has never smoked. His sister also has the condition, he said, but no one else in his family does.
For now, Bland said the condition is not especially painful. He said he has to slow down a little, his breathing aided at times by an oxygen bottle strapped to his waist. He coughs periodically and sometimes gets short of breath, but he said that is usually the extent of it.
This could change slowly or quickly, he said.
“The doctor said my lung function could be a steady decline, or it could stay steady for a long time and just crash overnight,” Bland said. “(The doctor told me,) ‘If you have a pulmonary problem, you get down here right away,’ because my lungs could just take a dive.”
Potential complications from pulmonary fibrosis listed on the Mayo Clinic’s website include respiratory failure, lung cancer and right-sided heart failure. Bland said he has more important things to worry about than himself.
“There’s nothing I can do about it, except what I’m doing,” Bland said. “Some people carry it better than others. It’s like I told my wife. My biggest fear (when I was diagnosed) was spending all that money, croaking on the table and leaving her with all that debt. That would worry me more than going through the surgery.”
Darrell’s wife, Donna Bland, said the condition has been stressful for both of them and their children.
“In order to help not only me, but the other family members to not worry so much, he puts his feelings aside,” Donna said. “Darrell has always put the family first ... (and) his faith in God comes first. He is right, worrying doesn’t do any good, but he knows that I do enough worrying for the both of us.”
With time and help, Donna said she has developed a share in Darrell’s resolve. She said she and Darrell are both grateful for support which has come not only from the Golden Triangle Restaurant Association, but also from family, friends, church members and co-workers from both their workplaces.
“When we first found out about it, it was like... (it was) just right there in my face, all day, every day,” Donna said. “I have found over the months that the more I talk about it, the easier it becomes. When the situation first started, I could not talk about it without crying, going into tears, but there have been a lot of people ... (who) have supported Darrell completely. Through their support, and with God’s support, we know we will get through this, because God is in control of the situation.”
Darrell said he, too, is grateful to his supporters, including the restaurants who are alleviating his greatest fear. He is still working at United Produce as he awaits the call to Jacksonville, and he said he doesn’t plan to stop working anytime soon.
“I don’t want to retire,” Darrell said. “I am retired from the Navy Reserve, but that doesn’t pay anything until you turn 60. I need to be active and have something to do. I wasn’t planning on retiring from here until I have to.”