The small town of Scottdale is pulling together to help one of its own.
Jerry Younkin received a lung transplant last year and now is faced with paying for the medical care that saved his life.
Friends and family in his Westmoreland County community have been helping, and their next fundraiser is a spaghetti dinner set for next Thursday in the Scottdale Fireman's Club.
Mr. Younkin was an active 63-year-old who worked full time as maintenance manager for the Otis Spunkmeyer bakery in Export. In his free time, he enjoyed gardening, woodworking and trap shooting.
In 2009, he developed a persistent cough and went to his doctor, who, after a lung biopsy, diagnosed him with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an illness that caused thickening and scarring of his lungs. A transplant was necessary to extend his life.
Twice Mr. Younkin was called to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio with the hopes of receiving a transplant.
And twice, he returned home disappointed.
"We had two false calls, but the third time was a charm," he said.
The third and final call came during a winter storm.
"It was a blizzard outside," said Mr. Younkin's daughter, Melissa Danser. "The roads were horrendous and travel time by car was increased."
Due to the weather, Cleveland Clinic sent an airplane to get Mr. Younkin and his wife. The rest of the Younkin family drove by car to the clinic. The usual five-hour drive took nearly eight hours, Ms. Danser said.
Mr. Younkin received his life-saving transplant on Jan. 14, 2012, at a cost of about $450,000. His health insurance covered a portion of the cost, but he still faces medical expenses related to the surgery, including lifetime follow-up care and daily anti-rejection medications that can range from $2,000 to $5,000 per month. The medications are as critical to Mr. Younkin's survival as the transplant itself.
"We're all so happy that Jerry received his transplant last year," said Laura Hughes, fundraising consultant for the National Foundation for Transplants, which is helping to relieve some of M. Younkin's financial burdens. The foundation is a nonprofit that helps patients raise funds to pay for transplant-related expenses.
"But many people don't realize the lifelong costs associated with transplantation," Ms. Hughes said. "I know that Jerry would love nothing more than to spend many more happy, healthy years with his wife, children and loved ones. At NFT, we want to help him do just that."
Since his diagnosis, Mr. Younkin has received the loving support of not only his wife of more than 30 years and his two children but of the Scottdale community as well.
"I'm so appreciative for all the support that I've received," said Mr. Younkin, a 1967 graduate of Southmoreland High School. "It's been amazing."
His family and friends will continue their fundraising efforts at 6 p.m. next Thursday with a spaghetti dinner at the Scottdale Fireman's Club, 405 Porter Ave., Scottdale. The price for the dinner is $8 and includes spaghetti, bread, salad, drink and dessert.
Mr. Younkin said his health is progressing but he knows it will never return to what it once was and he will never be able to resume his favorite activities, such as gardening and woodworking.
Due to the transplant, Mr. Younkin's immune system has been suppressed, making him more susceptible to harmful substances such as viruses, bacteria and fungi.
"I'm taking it one day at a time," he said. "I'm thankful for every breath."
Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the National Foundation for Transplants, Pennsylvania Transplant Fund, 5350 Poplar Ave., Suite 430, Memphis, TN 38119. Mark the contribution "in honor of Jerry Younkin." Contributions also can be made at www.transplants.org. Mr. Younkin can be found in the "Find an NFT Patient" section.
Linda Metz, freelance writer: email@example.com.