Sam Kribbs, Recipient
Expressing Gratitude With Renewed Life
Posted April 16, 2015
As his six-month follow-up appointment approached, Sam Kribbs sat down with pen and paper. The Blue Springs, Mo. resident had a new lease on life after his lung transplant in February 2014. He was able to take a beach vacation with his wife for the first time. He was taking a full course load for a master’s degree from Nazarene Theological Seminary. For the first time in his life, he was able to work out and feel that positive, energetic “runner’s high.”
Feeling great and having few bumps in his road to recovery, Sam sat down to write … to say thank you. “It was important for them to know, wherever they are in their journey, that I’m grateful,” Sam said of his Donor’s family. “I understood, as best I can, that these lungs came from a person with a family that loves them. I wanted them to know, in the joy and celebration of my life, what they gave me is never taken for granted, and it’s certainly not forgotten.”
Sam became one of the first residents of the Family House in December 2013. No more six-hour round trips from Blue Springs for appointments at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. No worrying about weather delaying their trip if Sam received the call during a snow storm. He and Katie were two miles from the transplant center.
Sam and his wife, Katie, lived at the Family House for about two months when Sam’s cell phone rang at 8:15 p.m. with a number he associates with his transplant team. He thought the call was a follow-up on some medication or a test. It was the call.
At a young age, Sam was diagnosed at birth with cystic fibrosis. Until the age of 23, he had been admitted to the hospital only once for cystic fibrosis-related complications. At 23, his condition deteriorated. When oral medications were once sufficient in managing sicknesses that entered the lungs, Sam now needed intravenous medications.
Over the next few years, Sam was in and out of the hospital so often that he lost his job and qualified for Social Security disability. “In some ways, that was a blessing,” Sam said. “It opened up the opportunity to go back to school and get a second degree. I ended up feeling a calling to go into ministry.”
That calling led him to Katie. They met while attending classes at Nazarene Theological Seminary. While working on a group project, Sam asked Katie to lunch. Both unsure if lunch was a date, it became an eight-hour lunch/walk around Kansas City in March. One month later, they were engaged. The couple planned to marry in October, but Sam’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the spring so they moved the wedding up to May.
Sam’s prognosis turned for the worse before the planned wedding date. While he had been sick through much of the summer, he felt well enough to attend the Kansas City Royal’s final home game of the 2013 season. “We caught a ball,” Katie said.
After the game, Sam knew he needed medication and planned to call his nurse coordinator in the morning. While waiting for a bed to become available at the University of Kansas Medical Center the next day, Sam began having trouble breathing. He became delirious. Katie called 911, and he was rushed to the emergency room. It was the start of a one-month hospital stay, in which he was transferred to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis where he was previously listed for transplant.
While at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, his transplant team asked the couple about residing closer to St. Louis. Their home was on the edge of the distance the transplant center requires patients to be within, but Sam’s condition concerned the transplant team. For Sam and Katie, as difficult as the travel between Kansas City and St. Louis was becoming, they didn’t have the resources to maintain a home in both cities while Sam waited for a lifesaving lung transplant. His social worker said he may be a candidate for the MTS Family House, a set of 10 apartments for pre- or post-transplant patients in a loft residence next to MTS’ main office.
“I wanted them to know, in the joy and celebration of my life, what they gave me is never taken for granted, and it’s certainly not forgotten.” -Sam Kribbs
While Sam was in surgery, Katie waited with family and friends. “I was worried about a mourning family,” Katie said. “In the joy that we had knowing Sam was being given life, they were mourning a loss. I wanted them to know their decision was giving someone else life, hoping it would be some kind of solace.”
A couple days after the successful surgery, Katie posted a picture of Sam to Facebook. Known for its facial recognition software to instantly tag friends, Facebook didn’t recognize post-transplant Sam. “He had so much color in his face that not even Facebook recognized him,” Katie said. “In our relationship, I had never seen that kind of life in him.”
About one year after his transplant, Sam and Katie learned they would be expecting their first child in October. It’s one of many life changes potentially coming to the Kribbs household in 2015. Sam is expected to complete his master’s degree this May.
“Life has changed in every conceivable way,” Sam said. “It’s a new life. I have so much energy. I don’t spend hours obsessing over being sick. I know I’ll be able to care for my child. I know I’ll be able to breath a mile above sea level in Denver. For the first time, I feel like I’m not sick.”