Make every breath count
For quite a while, Trampus Budde thought the progressively increasing fatigue he felt was just the result of aging, or maybe being a bit out of shape. He figured he could just push through.
By December 2017, he would arrive home from his job as principal of Pleasant Valley Junior High, eat a bowl of cereal, and go to bed. By March 2018, he and his family knew they had a much more serious issue with his lungs on their hands. By July 2018, doctors told Trampus he needed a double lung transplant, at age 47, due to pulmonary fibrosis, a build up of scar tissue caused by inflammation. The cause is unknown, and as his wife Anne said, “totally irrelevant to us at this point.”
Trampus was forced to step away from work. “The direction in July from the University of Iowa Lung Transplant Center to enjoy our lives and to have things in order, prior to being placed on the list, was a moment of clarity that was immediate and vividly clear,” Anne wrote in the family’s Caring Bridge site – the online blog where Anne kept friends and family up-to-date. “Our motto through this new reality is: ‘We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned as to have the life that is waiting for us.’ − Joseph Campbell”
As they waited for placement on the transplant list, with oxygen in tow, Trampus focused on building his strength and maintaining his health. He attended pulmonary rehab, visited lifelong friends in Minnesota, took Liam to appointments, served as “life coach” for his teenage daughters, and celebrated Anne’s 50th birthday with a trip to Arizona. He helped get Grace settled in at college, took Quinn on college visits, and attended a Cubs game. Anne and Trampus had more dinners with friends, and snuck into the back at church — faith offered peace and hope.
People, time, and love became their top priority. “We are so very grateful for the health crisis that caused this revelation to become more urgent,” Anne said. Trampus told the social worker for the transplant team that he hoped his transplant and its challenges serve as an example to walk through all situations and not to be knocked down.
Trampus was placed on the lung transplant list on June 7. On July 5, he got a call. “Four weeks on the list today,” Anne wrote. “Trampus got a call from the Iowa City Lung Transplant Center this morning at 8:30. They told him there was a possibility of lungs and to stay close to home. By 10:30, Trampus got the call that the lungs were a go. We are at the hospital now and prepping for surgery.”
The transplant team flew out of state to evaluate the lungs. After they determined they were a match for Trampus and the team was on its way back, surgery began in Iowa City. Surgeons removed Trampus’s lungs. Later that night, the doctor came out to tell the Buddes that the first lung was in. Hours later, the second lung was in. By 3 a.m. July 6, the surgery was done. Trampus moved to the Intensive Care Unit. Later that day, Anne posted: “One of Trampus’s greatest strengths is his ability to be fully human, and in true form his bravery was exhibited today. He communicates to the medical team he feels anxious and nervous, but is ready to keep going.”
And keep going he did.
The next week was filled with stories of medications, Trampus actively asking questions, visits from his children, careful monitoring, encouraging words, and waiting. Daughter Grace returned all of her dad’s oxygen tanks back to the store, an important symbolic gesture. His ventilator came out. He got up and walked. He used his voice a little bit. He ate some ice chips. And — he breathed without oxygen.
“These are sweet, sweet accomplishments,” Anne wrote. “Cannot tell you how good it felt to hear Trampus say, ‘I love you sweetie. I love you Bloom (my maiden name).’ Treasure it so much. Trampus has come so, so far and I am so very proud of him.”
Hotel, then home
A few days after their 21st anniversary, Trampus and Anne moved from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to a nearby hotel. The move was exciting for lots of reasons. For Anne, she was most happy because Trampus finally got to shave.
“Greetings from Trampus’s new healing center — the Springhill Suites in Coralville. We are mastering independence in the hotel room. We counted pills per instructions of the pharmacist. Trampus has checked his blood sugar levels and is prepping for solo breathing treatments, previously given by a respiratory therapist. And, at 8 p.m. will begin his lifetime pill-taking routine of every 12 hours. Not so bad.
“The big news, the really big news! Trampus pushed himself to shower and shave! My heart sings! Trampus says this was the most intense shaving experience because of 15 days of growth. It took both an electric razor followed by the old school razor and shaving cream.”
The days in the hotel were filled with learning new routines and visiting the hospital for tests. A brief hospital readmittance helped get fluid off of his lungs. Grace, Quinn, and Liam visited and continued to root their dad on. And the entire family felt the support from home.
“Today, we are focusing on the grace that people have shown to us during a difficult time,” Anne wrote. “The kids are seeing friends and family giving generously of their time and love. This warms our hearts that our children feel that support when we can’t be with them. Thank you to all of you for your giving.”
On Aug. 6, just one month after his transplant, Trampus came home. He ordered Happy Joe’s pizza to celebrate.
“There are no words that could possibly express the jubilation that Trampus, Grace, Quinn and Liam and I feel today,” Anne wrote. “Trampus is currently asleep on the couch in our living room. He is tired, real and deeply tired. So much so, that as we took the exit to our home off the interstate and tears of rejoicing flowed down my face, Trampus responded, ‘I feel like I’m too tired right now to feel any emotion. But thank you, I know it has been hard and thank you for everything you did.’ His gratitude feels sweet, oh so sweet. We had no idea when we took those vows 21 years ago what was in store. With more wisdom now, we know that walking together through good times and bad is the privilege of a lifetime for both of us.”
And now, living
Trampus does not remember much about the days after the transplant. That’s where Anne’s online journal will come in – to fill the gaps where he can’t recall.
The kids all went back to school. The Buddes attended the annual lung transplant picnic in Iowa City in October. They met the person who received a lung transplant right after Trampus. Anne still hasn’t learned how to drive a wheelchair all that well, but Trampus lets that go (wink, wink). Exercise five days a week is building his strength. He can drive again, and do light housework as well.
Trampus got a T-shirt from his pulmonary rehab friends that reads: “Make every breath count.”
After Trampus’s successful biopsy at the beginning of October, Anne and Trampus decided that regular entries to their online journal would come to an end. “The time has come to start living and keeping the ever-present
lung transplant off center stage,” Anne wrote. “Trampus and I have become keenly aware in recovery that life and mortality are so closely paralleled for meaningful days. We are different in very good ways. God continues to bless us and we continue to receive with wonder.
“Thank you for loving us and sharing your time and energy with us. It is Trampus’s and my hope that our journey provided you some solace for challenges you will face. We all get them; there is no escaping pain. The paradox that I witnessed from Trampus in every step of his lung disease is the strength that appears in surrender.”