Scleroderma to Transatlantic Voyage
Dave Kurtz - Journey of Hope
(August 2019) To say Dave Kurtz has always lived an active life is a dramatic understatement. He ran a major electrical contracting company, raised a family and trained and competed in Ironman triathlons consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bicycle race and a 26 mile marathon run.
But one day, while training, Dave noticed a change within himself. “I was just not where I should be,” said Dave. “I was experienced, I'd been through seven of these things before, and I knew how I should feel. I was flat, and I was losing my interest. That bothered me. I kept thinking, ‘Something's not right…”
In the beginning, his hands swelled up, and over the course of the next two and a half months, he lost forty pounds. He began to experience fatigue as well as many other symptoms.
“I had problems with my heart, and lungs, and gastroesophageal problems. I had trouble swallowing. I'd choke. I couldn't digest food. I had Sjorgren's syndrome, which causes everything to dry out. Your eyes and mouth dry out.”
After going through medical tests, Dave was diagnosed with systemic scleroderma. Scleroderma is a group of rare diseases that involve the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues. The systemic type of the disease affects the whole body, including the blood and internal organs, and especially the kidneys, esophagus, heart, and lungs.
Jill Kurtz, Dave’s wife, was increasingly scared, especially when she found out doctors had determined extensive damage to his lungs. “ They were talking lung transplant, but it also affected his heart, so he would need a heart transplant and a lung transplant. That was scary, ” Jill said.
The sudden and dramatic changes to Dave’s health pushed him into a depression, to the point where he shut down. But Jill convinced him to get up and moving. When Dave began researching online and talking to others, he discovered something promising: adult stem cell transplants. Dave discovered Dr. Richard Burt at Northwestern University Medical Center, who has been performing research on the use of adult stem cells for autoimmune disorders for over a decade.
“When I learned that an adult stem cell transplant was a possibility, I felt great.” said Dave. “There was some hope.” Dave’s hope turned out to be well-founded. After an adult stem cell transplant in 2017, he is on the road to recovery.
Jill tears up when thinking how well Dave has recovered since the transplant. “Dave's quality of life since the adult stem cell transplant has drastically improved, and it's just a miracle from where he was to what he can do now. The adult stem cell transplant made Dave think about life more. It's fragile and you just never know when things are going to occur like that.”
Cardiopulmonary assessment of patients with systemic sclerosis for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation: recommendations from the European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation Autoimmune Diseases Working Party and collaborating partners
Dave now spends much of his free time sailing on Lake Michigan. His Ironman Triathlon days may be behind him, but now he has two new goals: One goal is sailing across the Atlantic. He calls it his ‘BHAG', Big Hairy Ass Goal. Dave has sailed all his life but this journey will require some training. That’s why he’s spending the summer sailing his brother’s sailboat around Lake Michigan.
While he trains, he thinks about ways he can work on his second passion, to educate other people with scleroderma about adult stem cell transplants. Dave chokes up a little as he takes stock of his recovery. “If telling my story gives some people some hope, that’s the goal.”