Benefit planned for Freson lung transplant


Kevin Freson

Kevin Freson, 52, of Jasper is the kind of guy who lends a hand to anyone needing help.

He’s the one who is working in the background — at a church event, cheering for a team, cooking for those who are shut in.

He will do whatever he can to help.

So when the time came for him to receive help, it was a new feeling for him.

“I’m the type of person that never, never asks for help from anybody. If something needed to be done, I just did it,” he said in late September. “Now I have to ask for help for even ridiculously easy tasks that anybody can do. And that’s the thing that probably gets to me the most.”

Kevin’s lungs were functioning at less than half capacity. He would need not a single, but a double lung transplant.

He started noticing that something wasn’t right on Labor Day weekend in 2016. He’d taken his dog out behind his house, which required going down a hill.

“We ran back up. And when I got up to the house, I couldn’t really breathe. I thought I was gonna die,” Kevin recalled.

It took a little while for him to start breathing normally that day. And for the entire weekend, Kevin did not feel well. “I would get winded just doing simple things,” he said.

Kevin went to see his doctor, and the diagnosis was bronchitis. He got steroid shots so that he could feel well enough to go to his son’s wedding, which was three weeks later.

“The day of the wedding,” he said, “my fingers started turning blue and looking weird.”

He went back to the doctor the following Monday and the staff tested his oxygen level. A normal level is 95%, and anything under 90% is considered bad. Kevin’s level was at 75%.

Under his doctor’s advice, Kevin went to Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center’s emergency room. He was admitted with what doctors thought was pneumonia. He was there for three days and then released.

Kevin started using oxygen to help him to breathe. He was also sent to see a specialist, who ran chest X-rays. The doctor said there was scarring in Kevin’s lungs, but didn’t know what was causing it.

Kevin was referred to a hospital in Louisville for a lung biopsy, which was done in 2017. The doctors told him that he had interstitial lung disease and gave him medicine “to slow the process of having more damage,” Kevin said.

In early 2018, a co-worker of his told Kevin that her father had gone to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville with the same condition. So the Fresons decided to go to see if they could help.

The staff at Vanderbilt found that Kevin had non-specified interstitial pneumonia. And there is no cause or cure for it.

“Basically it’s scarring in my lungs,” Kevin said. “When I get something in my lungs, like an infection or something like that, instead of my lungs and white blood cells fighting it off, it basically just forms crystals around it, and traps it so it doesn’t go anywhere. That is what causes all that damage in my lungs.”

He continued using oxygen. But in the fall of 2019, he was ill again, and his illness continued through the holidays. Doctors increased his steroids, but that did not work.

In February 2020, after his sickness got worse, Kevin went back to see his doctor in Nashville. He was admitted to the hospital for a week.

That’s when his doctor determined that Kevin would need a double lung transplant.

“My lungs were damaged so much,” Kevin said in September. “I’m right around 35% lung capacity. Once the damage is done, there’s nothing they can do to repair it.”

After that, Kevin was on constant oxygen to keep his oxygen level above 90%. And he had to do pulmonary exercises to get ready for the possible transplant. He and Kristi, his wife, also isolated themselves. “If I were to get sick again, things could be worse,” he said.

At home, tasks like going down to the basement or back patio was hard. “It’s too much trouble to climb back up the stairs,” he said. “And having this oxygen tube hanging out of your nose all the time is no fun.”

Kristi said that life changed a lot, but they are dealing with it. “He has his good days and bad days, days of stress,” she said. “I’m reading different things, and some things stress me out, while others make me hopeful. So it’s up and down.”

Kevin worked out an arrangement with his employer, Stens, to work from home “I couldn’t take enough oxygen in with me to last all day,” he said.

The couple was told to be ready for whenever they got the call for the transplant.

To do so, Kevin had to lose weight; between February and September, he lost more than 60 pounds.

He had pulmonary exercises to do, such as walking and a workout that included marching in place and sitting and standing, “which is not my favorite.”

He doesn’t bend over and pick up things off the floor. “That just sucks the wind out of me,” Kevin said. “You can ask Kristi; if I drop something on the floor, it’s dead to me. I will not pick it up.”

Kevin also had to go through numerous tests to make sure his body could handle a transplant, Kristi said. They even met with a psychologist, who checked Kevin’s mental and emotional state.

“They check your mind, your body, your soul, your finances,” she said.

The ones who went through the Fresons’ finances looked at how much the surgery would cost and how much insurance would cover. They told the couple to raise $20,000. They needed $10,000 to get Kevin on the list. And they needed to cover the costs for Kevin to live close enough to the hospital to get followup treatments.

“We have to stay within 10 miles of the hospital for three months after the transplant,” Kristi said.

Family and friends stepped in, raising money, doing fundraisers and creating a donation page through the National Foundation for Transplants. They also set up a Facebook page through which family, friends and the public can find the donation page and get information. It’s called “Freezy’s New Lungs.” (“Freezy” is Kevin’s nickname.)

In September, Kevin was officially put on the transplant waiting list. On Oct. 7, they received the call. A set of lungs was available for Kevin. The couple made the three-hour trip to Nashville, and on Oct. 8, Kevin was in surgery.

Kristi reported on Facebook that the surgery was a success. The next day, Kevin was talking some and breathing on his own. On Oct. 10, he was walking with his nurses and was removed from the ICU.

On Oct. 16, Kevin himself posted on his page: “8 days after Double Lung Transplant they let me walk out instead of being wheeled out in a wheel chair!”

Kevin left the hospital that day, and is living with Kristi in close vicinity to the hospital. They go back to get checkups at the clinic and to do pulmonary rehabilitation. He’s now taking more than 40 pills a day.

And he got to see his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers win the World Series.

On Halloween, the couple walked a 5K, spread out through three walks. They also drove around some and watched movies. Kristi shared the day’s events on Facebook while touching base with her family and friends in Dubois County. She ended her message with, “We are missing the kiddos on this first Holiday away from home though.”

But they both are grateful, they said, especially for the outpouring of prayers and support.

The Fresons have four sons and four grandchildren.

To support Kevin:

A fundraiser is being held Sunday to help the Fresons with medical expenses. Pork chop dinners with creek fries and baked beans are being sold and can be picked up via drive-thru at Redemption Christian Church, 1450 Energy Drive, Jasper. Tickets for the dinner are $10 each and can be purchased in advanced by contacting Ryan Stiles, or 812-661-0370.

People can also donate through Kevin’s fundraising page that has been established through the National Foundation for Transplants. A link can be found through Kevin’s support page on Facebook, “Freezy’s New Lungs.”

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