Thanks to transplant, Bergman is back to work and breathing easilyAfter a lung transplant and three months at a hospital in Pittsburgh, Lake County Commissioner Paul Bergman returned to Two Harbors at the end of April, just in time to experience some late-season snow storms.
By: LaReesa Sandretsky, Lake County News Chronicle
After a lung transplant and three months at a hospital in Pittsburgh, Lake County Commissioner Paul Bergman returned to Two Harbors at the end of April, just in time to experience some late-season snow storms.
“Other than the weather, it’s great to be back,” he said with a laugh.
Bergman, 64, has scleroderma, a skin-hardening disease, and a common complication is lung problems. Bergman said he had been living with decreased lung capacity for about six years when his problems took a turn for the worse.
“I could feel it coming…I wasn’t taking the stairs anymore at the courthouse,” Bergman said.
His doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester confirmed Bergman’s suspicions about two years ago—his lungs were becoming more and more damaged. The only option was a lung transplant. However, the Mayo Clinic doesn’t perform transplants on scleroderma patients because of a high risk of complications.
Then, Bergman heard about the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“They’re the only hospital in the world that will do a scleroderma patient transplant,” Bergman said.
Bergman was placed on the waiting list and flew to Pittsburgh—the hospital requires patients to be within four hours of their campus in order to be called in for a transplant. He arrived on January 28, and they had a lung for him by February 5—an organ donation by a 48-year-old man.
The operation lasted three hours, and the next day Bergman was already going for short walks and checking his email, a vital connection to his county board duties while he was away. He was released from the hospital after 10 days. The remaining time in Pittsburgh was dedicated to rehabilitation.
Bergman said he’s thankful for the successful operation, but his organ donor’s death weighs heavily on him.
“With that gift comes responsibility to make sure the lung is taken care of,” Bergman said.
Bergman got just a single lung transplant, but his lung capacity is almost back to normal. Before the operation, it was close to 30 percent. Now, it’s at 76 percent—just four points below a normal pair of lungs. He’s also retired the portable oxygen tank that was his constant companion before the operation.
Bergman said he kept up to speed with county board proceedings as much as possible from Pittsburgh through emails and many long phone calls with County Administrator Matt Huddleston and Board Chair Rich Sve.
“I felt I was informed,” he said.
Sve said he called Bergman at least once a week to update him, answer any questions and get Bergman’s input on issues facing the county board.
“What was so amazing to me is that every time I talked to him…he was just upbeat, full of questions,” Sve said.
Sve said he’s thankful for the modern technology that made it easy to keep Bergman up to speed, but nothing could replace the District 4 commissioner’s presence.
“When I walked in the board room and he was sitting in his chair, it was just uplifting to have him back,” Sve said.
County board correspondence wasn’t Bergman’s only communication in Pittsburgh. He said he also received long-distance support from Two Harbors citizens.
“The whole town has been very supportive with emails and prayers and cards and letters,” Bergman said.
Now, he’s focused on continuing rehab and plunging back into the world of local politics. He said broadband and the Northern Lights Express, a potential speed rail from Duluth to Minneapolis, top his involvements right now, as they did before he left.
He said he will remain thankful for the new lung that has allowed him to continue serving into his seventh year as a county commissioner.
“Organ donation is a big deal. Everybody should think about it. It truly is life-saving and life-changing,” Bergman said.