Rare disease stuns family

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – When Don Vicknair noticed that a nagging cough wouldn’t go away, he did what most normal husbands do. He ignored it for as long as he could, until his wife Stacy insisted he see a doctor.

“At first the doctor said she thought it was pneumonia, and gave him antibiotics, expecting it to be gone in a couple of weeks,” Stacy Vicknair said. “But when it didn’t go away, he got sent for more tests, and that’s when we got hit with the news. It was unbelievable.”

Vicknair, only 46, was told he had Pulmonary Fibrosis, a rare lung disease, and that he had the lungs of a 70-year-old. Incredibly, Vicknair had never smoked a day in his life.

“That’s the thing that bothers me the most,” Stacy said. “He has always been healthy, and he has never smoked. That’s what is so hard about it.”

Now Vicknair must have a double lung transplant to survive, since he is down to just 50 percent of his breathing capacity, a situation that will only get worse if left untreated.

But Vicknair found out that even though his health insurance policy has a $2 million maximum for most diseases or problems, there is a stipulation that says there is only $150,000 to cover any transplants.

That’s why family and friends have been working for the last two months to put together a huge fundraiser this weekend at Longview Recreation Park in Grand Point, where they hope to raise as much money as possible to help with the costs associated with trying to get him the lungs needed to save his life.

The fundraiser will involve a massive weekend party, running from this Friday, Aug. 22 to Sunday, Aug. 24 and offering lots of fun for everyone. There will be live bands all weekend long, cabbageball tournaments, a one-mile walk and run, horseshoes, a 5K run, a poker run on Sunday, an auction and more. Check details on page 1A, next to this story, for more information on what will be offered this weekend.

When Don and Stacy first realized what faced them, they naturally tried to find the best medical facility in the country to handle lung transplants. That turned out to be Duke University, but they quickly were rejected when they were told the price would be $700,000, and his insurance policy didn’t have anywhere close to that kind of coverage.

Now the family is looking around at other hospitals that might do it more inexpensively, while also hoping that his insurance company might come up with more money. However even if the coverage is provided, the cost for the family facing a transplant situation is still enormous.

Both Stacy and Don will have to quit their jobs they are currently working, and will probably have to stay somewhere close to where the transplants are done.

Gregg Simon, owner of Gregg’s Neighborhood Supermarket in Reserve, has been one of the many people helping out with the fundraising, promoting it in the local newspaper. Of course he has a special connection to the situation since Stacy is his sister.

“When I found out, I just thought about how fortunate I am, and most of us are, to not have to face something like this,” Simon remarked. “You might think you have problems, until you see somebody with this. Now I want to do anything I can to help.”

Simon said that the Vicknair’s will probably have to live out-of-town for well over a month if they can get the transplants approved, and will need plenty of money to help pay those costs.

“I’m floored by all the people who are helping, it’s really unbelievable,” Stacy remarked. “I had just been talking to a friend, Della Louque, and told her what happened right after I found out. I started crying and she said that she was going to help raise some money. But I can’t believe how much everyone is chipping in to help us.”

Don is currently working at his job at Zeno Grain Elevator, where he has worked for 20 years and “probably only missed five to 10 days of work in all that time,” Stacy said. She works in an office, and both will continue to work up until the time that a transplant could be arranged.

“The doctor said that it is best for Don to work now, as long as he can,” Stacy noted. “But he is so exhausted when he comes home and is finished working. I can see how he is getting worse.” The couple has two sons, one who is 15-years-old and still living at home.

The group of people putting the fundraiser together have gotten it set up to be a tax deductible contribution for those who donate. The fundraiser has a Tax ID No. of 30-0494753. You can mail donations to “Don Vicknair Fundraiser,” c/o Mary Simon, P.O. Box 664, Gramercy, La., 70052.

You can also donate at any Regions Bank where an account has been set up in the name of the “Don Vicknair Fundraiser,” with account number 80597300.

Anyone wishing to help with donations can contact Della Louque at 225-869-9647.