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The Hero He Never Met

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Ron Russ poses outside

47-year-old with pulmonary fibrosis grateful for the hero he never met following successful double-lung transplant

At the age of 47, Ron Ross, an active runner, started experiencing shortness of breath. He was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). IPF has no known cause and leads to scarring and stiffness of the lungs. Early symptoms include chronic dry cough. As the disease progresses, it causes shortness of breath with exertion, which can lead to a decrease in exercise tolerance and promote a more sedentary lifestyle.

“It was devastating,” Ron said. “I went from running every day to not being able to walk up the steps in my house.”

A sedentary lifestyle didn’t feel like an option for this runner, husband and father of three.

But Ron’s condition continued to decline, and soon he began fighting just to stay alive. His oxygen levels dropped so low that he required hospitalization at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. One day in April of 2022, he “crashed” and was placed on a ventilator.

"In Ron's case, unfortunately his disease progressed very quickly. However, this is not uncommon with pulmonary fibrosis,” said Silpa Kilaru, MD, Ron’s pulmonologist and the medical director of the lung transplant program at UH Cleveland Medical Center. “He ended up in our ICU and needed cardiopulmonary support with ECMO, a type of life support for people who have the most severe heart and lung failure. He was placed on the list for lung transplant.”

Ron waited only a few days before a pair of lungs that matched became available. He underwent a double-lung transplant at UH Cleveland Medical Center on April 22, 2022. His ordeal was fast and furious – only 22 months from diagnosis to transplant.

"That person is the hero I never met,” said Ron. “I really, really from the bottom of my heart thank them so much. I don't think anyone has any idea how grateful a donor recipient is. I know my whole family is thankful for the gift that person decided to give."

Ron spent two months in the hospital. He fought through delirium and muscle atrophy. Post-transplant, he participated in physical therapy and pulmonary rehab.

It took Ron more than 18 months to get back to almost 100 percent.

During the 2023 holiday season, Ron reported he was doing medium-paced walks and was “almost” back to running.

He calls Dr. Kilaru a miracle worker.

“Ron’s story had a positive outcome because of early intervention,” said Dr. Kilaru. “Whenever patients have any signs of lung disease, particularly pulmonary fibrosis on imaging, they need to pursue evaluation as soon as possible. We’re thrilled Ron is doing well and living life with his family. It is truly an inspirational story and one that showcases Ron’s tenacity and strength to regain his life after transplant.”

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