Sioux Falls lawmaker on waiting list for lung transplant
By David Montgomery
SIOUX FALLS (AP) — When Steve Hickey started getting winded after climbing flights of stairs, he thought he merely was out of shape.
But a trip to the doctor revealed an affliction far more serious than a surplus of pounds. Hickey, the state lawmaker and pastor for Church at the Gate in Sioux Falls, was diagnosed this fall with pulmonary fibrosis, a mysterious and deadly disease with no known treatment, the Argus Leader reported.
His only long-term hope is a lung transplant. Hickey's on the waiting list for new lungs but doesn't expect to receive one for several years. He's hoping he doesn't need it sooner.
"There's a window of time. They don't want to wait too long, but they don't want to do it too early," Hickey said.
He's trying to stay positive about the disease, in which scar tissue in the lungs gradually decreases their capacity to provide air for the body.
"If you Google (pulmonary fibrosis), it's depressing," Hickey said. "They say the average person lives three to five years after diagnosis, without a transplant. I refuse to accept that."
For now, Hickey's going full-speed ahead.
He's still preaching on Sundays and will be making speeches on the floor of the state House of Representatives. This year Hickey, a Republican, is championing high-profile issues including a repeal of the death penalty.
His legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle are cheering him on.
"We'll give Steve all the support we can," said Bernie Hunhoff, the Democratic leader in the House. "Especially Steve — he's just a caring fellow. You look at the list of the bills he's carried and you can see, even though we're of different political parties, just how deeply he cares about other people. I think he'll see some of that caring bouncing back at him."
Also backing Hickey are the parishioners at the Church at the Gate, which Hickey founded almost 20 years ago.
"It's a tough subject that was laid upon our church. However, I do believe that our church knows how to deal with this type of thing, because we've had it happen with people in our church before," said Nicole Osmundson, a member of Hickey's church. "We as a church congregation just rally behind people with illnesses that have crises in their lives.
"We've seen the power of our prayer with people at our church. Steve talks about things like that all the time, every Sunday. This is an opportunity for us to walk what we've talked about."
Pulmonary fibrosis is a familiar enemy for Hickey. Although he was just diagnosed a few months ago, his mother died from the disease several years ago. So did her brother and sister.
Though it's unknown whether pulmonary fibrosis has roots in heredity, Hickey previously enrolled in a genetic study to try to shed some light on the causes.
Watching pulmonary fibrosis claim Hickey's mother, who lived with him near the end, has made his own diagnosis more personal for his family.
"My kids are a little more sober about it," he said. "They know this isn't a cold."
Hickey has three children, ages 19 to 23 years old.
Now he's trying to think positively and rededicate himself to getting stuff done. The author of four published books, he has eight more in various stages of progress and wants to spend more time writing. Hickey also has legislative priorities he hopes to push.
While the disease might eventually force him to be on oxygen, Hickey's trying to live normally for as long as he can.
"I refuse to use the elevator," he said. "I get up to the top, and I need to sit down sometimes. But I've been joking with people that I might have to ride in the parade car now instead of walking it."
The lung transplant Hickey eventually will need to survive will come from an accident victim who agrees to donate his or her organs.
South Dakotans can visit donatelifesd.org to learn how to register as organ donors.
Hickey said the support he's received has made a big difference these past few months.
"I believe in thinking positively," he said. "I appreciate people's prayers, and I know that people care."