GREENVILLE — Steve Schafer, a retired Darke County Sheriff’s Department employee, underwent a double-lung transplant on Oct. 15, 2005.
“It was called a bi-lateral,” Schafer said.
“His health problems began to sneak up on him” said wife Carole. “Doctors sent him to Richmond with a cough. He was a smoker for 34 years and they said he had pulmonary fibrosis. The lungs become fibrous and tissues harden from the bottom of the lungs up. It was difficult for him to get the air out, and it got worse.”
Carole wanted a second opinion; so, they went to Cleveland Clinic.
“They took three biopsies, the top, middle and bottom portions of the lung,” she said. “They determined he had active inflammation. As long as it was active, they could treat it with steroids.”
She said there were side effects with the steroids.
“The Prednisone was kind to him,” she said. “He got more exercise [when he used it].”
But, then, his condition eventually deteriorated.
Her husband quit working at the sheriff’s department in 2004. “I was on road patrol for more than 21 years. I worked under Sheriffs Erwin, Sullenbarger and Spencer. I enjoyed my work. I couldn’t wait to go to work. Carole pressed my uniform everyday and I polished my brass and boots everyday. I lived by Sullenbarger’s quote: ‘You look sharp, you feel sharp,’ and I was very proud of that.”
“In 2004, Steve couldn’t get up the courthouse steps, where he worked,” Carole said.
“I taught the DARE program with Mike Burns,” Steve said. “Then I retired into court services. I couldn’t get up the stairs and I thought to myself, ‘How can I protect anyone if I can’t help myself.’ So I hung it up. In a week or so before Christmas, I called Chief Deputy Grice and told him of my plans. I could no longer carry on my duties. Actually, he said, ‘We kind of figured it was coming.”
Shortly after his retirement, Steve was placed on oxygen. It was then they proceeded to discuss a possible transplant.
“He had lots to go through…testing, blood, colonoscopy, endoscopy and he had to have four wisdom teeth pulled and two impacted molars extracted, the last step before he was put on a transplant list. That was the end of July 2004, and he really went downhill. He was on almost 5 liters of oxygen and that was still not enough.”
Around that time, Steve’s mother, Phyllis Ware Schafer, had died.
“I was an only child,” said Steve, who was also the son of Robert L. Schafer, who died in 2009. “And, I loved every minute of it.”
It was 6 p.m. Oct. 14, 2005 that the call came through to the Schafers. They had found a donor.
“They sent an executive jet down from Cleveland to the Versailles Airport” he said. “I was very calm. We had the whole jet to ourselves. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation police came to pick us up at Brooke Airport. I got in their cruiser and told them I wanted to ride shotgun and told them that I was a retired deputy sheriff. They let me run the sirens and lights.”
“Then we got a call to step it up,” Carole recalled. “They were running out of time.”
Steve said he was still calm. At the hospital, he thanked the officer.
“I didn’t know if it would be my last ride,” Steve said.
At the hospital, an older lady in the same prep area was also awaiting a transplant. Doctors asked Steve if he would let them take care of her first and he obliged.
“After they took her in, they immediately took me in at 12:30 or 11,” he said.
Carole said the surgery took 5 1/2 hours with Dr. David Mason as surgeon.
“The doctor came out before 5 and said everything went fine,” she remembered. “He was in ICU for five weeks, in a stepdown unit for five weeks and then into rehab for two weeks. It was no piece of cake. He was in Cleveland Clinic for four months and had a lot of complications. I walked into the ICU three times a day for five weeks, back and forth from the guest house. It was 185 steps each way. My brother came into the hospital one day said I was alone and I said, ‘No, God is with me.”
“I had forgotten how to walk,” Steve said. “I had atrophy of the muscles and I lost 45 pounds. They attributed my longevity afterwards for being in the sheriff’s office and lifting weights. If I would have been sedentary, I probably wouldn’t have made it.”
Carole also said he could not talk, because he went into DT’s from the meds that he was taken off of. So, a tracheotomy was performed.
Carole expressed she didn’t want that, but doctors told her he would die if they didn’t do it.
“It was hard to communicate with Steve,” she said. “It was frustrating.”
“I was trying to write to her what I needed,” he said.
“I hard to learn to read his lips,” Carole added.
“It was challenging to say the least, but I’m so glad I went through it,” Steve said.
Two days after Steve’s surgery, good friend John Pevonka drove straight through from Florida and picked up another friend Greg Metzcar and visited Steve in the hospital.
During their visit, Steve started having some problems. Carole just knew it was because he had been taken off of the medications.
Carole who was Darke County’s first female deputy sheriff, served as her husband’s patient advocate, according to him.
“Everyday I’d look at his X-rays in ICU,” she said. “I told them they needed to check his meds and orders.”
“I was having anxiety,” he said. “That’s where you can break. It takes you places where you don’t want to go.”
They apparently got his meds figured out.
“He started getting better in eight to 10 weeks and got home on Feb. 13, 2006,” she said.
“First year, I missed every holiday….Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s and get home the day before Valentine’s Day. Then we were back in for Easter and Memorial Day because I had pnuemonia twice.”
“He has had a long battle,” Carole said.
“I get tired easily,” Steve said.”I am doing well, holding my own.”
And, now that Henry, their little dog, has joined the household. he has been a godsend to Steve.
“Steve is a lot better since we got the dog two years ago, because he’s more active,” Carole said.
“We found Henry as a stray and he fell in love with me,” Steve said. “We take walks. He’s my buddy.”
The Schafers have gone on fishing trips and even traveled 250 miles northwest of Thunder Bay in Canada to fish. Steve also likes to golf.
Steve encourages organ donations. He is now an organ donor.
“I am so grateful and thankful for my donor, but they didn’t want to be contacted,” he said. “I gave a talk to Donate Life recently. I want to reach out, but what do you say to the family whose been so precious to give life out of death.”
“The only indication we had was that it was a good clean set of lungs,” Carole said.
It is Steve’s goal now to support others facing transplants.
After he found out that Donnie Moyers of Wayne Lakes needed surgery, he talked to him supported and encouraged him.
Moyers had only one lung transplant but subsequently passed away due to complications.”
The Schafers were married 34 years on July 2, after having met through a mutual friend. He was born and raised in Greenville and she, the former Carole Hitchcock was from Covington. He has a daughter and two grandchildren and she has a son and three grandchildren.
Does she notice anything different about her husband now that he has a new set of lungs?
“He has to be mindful of his diet,” she said. “And sometimes, he resorts back to like he was when he was 17.”
“Some people say I am more of a comedian now,” he said.
“They say he can have a long life as long as he takes care of himself,” she said.”We wish to truly thank family, friends, members of the Darke County Sheriff’s Office, churches, organizations, and many, many prayer warriors who supported us throughout Steve’s surgery and recovery. Without them, I would have been lost.”
Linda Moody may be reached at 937-569-4315. Follow her on Facebook and join the conversation and get updates on Facebook search Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.