SEQUIM — Fred Banks finds he’s been at his best recently after months of struggling to catch his breath.
It’s been almost a year since Banks received transplanted lungs at the University of Washington following a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis. The procedure took place April 16, 2020.
“For the last month and a half, I’ve just been able to talk more,” he said. “I used to stop to catch my breath all the time.”
Banks, 66, who said he hasn’t smoked in 45-plus years, said: “I didn’t think I would have lived much longer.
“I’ve always been optimistic looking towards this transplant,” he said. “Once recovered, I have just been ecstatic. From when I went into the hospital to now, I use no oxygen, so I feel real good.”
While the transplant saved his life, medical expenses cut significantly into the retired firefighter and ranch hand’s simple livelihood.
Banks and his wife Berniece, married for 46 years, live in a fifth wheel just west of Carlsborg on a small firefighter’s pension and Medicare.
With medications that cost $400 to $500 a month and paying off more than a month-long stay in the hospital and an additional three months in UW’s Transplant Housing, Banks said he’s “burned through savings.”
Family members, including his daughter Karie Banks Wellsandt, have sought to help offset her parents’ costs with ongoing raffles at fredbanksmedicalraffle.com and a gofundme at gofundme.com/f/fred-banks-medical-fund.
“Any and all help is appreciated and accepted,” Banks said.
For years, Banks said he was misdiagnosed with allergies, starting about 2012, because he had a consistent dry, hacking cough. In December 2018, he received was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, and he was rushed to Jefferson Healthcare in May 2019 and hospitalized for a few weeks due to a lack of oxygen.
In January 2020, he became eligible for a lung transplant.
“I felt this was my only chance because my oxygen use was going up more and more,” he said.
Four months later, Banks received the transplant.
Banks’ work resume includes about 20 years as a firefighter in southeast Washington state, about seven years for a frozen foods company and about 13 years as a ranch worker.
He said while working on a ranch early in his career, he came in consistent close contact with toxic hazards that could have caused his condition.
“At that time, you don’t realize what it’s all about, and there was no respiratory protection,” he said. “I remember making a funny back then saying, ‘I won’t need penicillin.’ ”
Banks said smoking likely wasn’t a factor in his diagnosis because he quit as one of his promises to his then-future wife before they got married.
The Bankses moved to Sequim to be close to family.
At the time, their granddaughter Jocelin was battling acute lymphocytic leukemia in mid-February, but she is now cancer-free, Banks said.
The couple planned to buy a home after living in an RV to be closer to their daughter Amanda and her family, but with limited income, Banks said they could only afford fixer-uppers.
Those require a lot of energy, and potential mold issues would not be conducive for Banks’ health.
Since his daughter started the fundraisers, Banks said he’s “received copious amounts of encouragement and some monetary assistance.”
His family has set goals to help offset long-term costs since he’ll be on many of the medications the remainder of his life, he said.
Since the transplant, Banks has set goals to exercise more and go on walks, go salmon fishing at least once this year, and maybe halibut fishing next year, too.
Banks said a key element to his recovery has been his faith. He was baptized in 2013.
“Faith is a giant part of this,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of prayer to make it through.”
Banks said he’s unsure from whom he received his new lungs came, but he’s writing a letter through the hospital’s correspondence system to thank the donor’s family.
“The medical staff at the University of Washington has been fantastic,” he said.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected]