SIDNEY — Grage Couch’s doctors are amazed that over the last two years, Couch has lost 107 pounds without using fat blockers or having surgery.
As a new year starts, thousands of area people will resolve to lose weight. Couch, of Sidney, knows that diet and exercise work if you have the right motivation.
His motivation? He needs two new lungs.
Those doctors who are now amazed told him in June 2017 that he had to have a double lung transplant, but he would have to lose 100 pounds before it could happen. At the time, Couch weighed 353 pounds.
Now, at 246 pounds, he’s waiting for insurance paperwork to be in order and hopes lungs will be available for him by March.
“There are 2,500 lung transplants done per year. Not everyone who needs one, gets one,” Couch said. And he needs two.
It all started in February 2016.
“I got what I thought was a bad case of bronchitis with wheezing, but I never recovered,” Couch said. Not one to go to doctors often, he got an appointment with his wife’s primary care physician who thought Couch might be suffering from congestive heart failure.
The doctor sent his patient to a heart specialist.
“They took me in for a heart catheter and found a small blockage, but my problems weren’t related to the heart. So they thought lungs,” Couch said.
He next saw a pulmonologist in Lima, who had Couch take a pulmonary function test and a six-minute walk. His lungs showed a 90 percent oxygen level when he started the walk. Two minutes in, they were at 83 percent. The walk stopped.
A CT scan showed that he has interstitial lung disease.
“That’s an umbrella for more than 250 lung diseases,” Couch said. The Lima physician said further treatment was out of his area of expertise and suggested Couch see doctors at either the Cleveland Clinic or Ohio State University. He chose OSU.
“They did their battery of tests and recommended an open lung biopsy to determine what I have,” he said. It turned out to be idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
“My lungs are scarring. I don’t know why,” Couch said.
“The bottom part of his lungs is all crystallized,” his wife, Becky, noted.
“I have only 40 percent capacity. There’s no cure,” Grage (pronounced Greg) added.
He had been working in the packaging department at Cargill, but that had to stop. He didn’t want to. Connected by then to an oxygen tank at all times, he asked if he could work part time with the tank in tow. Local Cargill bosses passed the question up to corporate decision-makers who said no.
Two years ago, Grage qualified for total disability payments from Social Security.
“I had been working 12-hour shifts. Suddenly, you see your mortality. They say you have three to five years, you look at things differently,” he said.
That’s when the dieting and exercising started.
“I figured out how many calories I was eating (some days it was as many as 4,000 to 5,000). They told me how many calories I could eat. I started at 1,800 and eventually dropped to 1,400,” Grage said. He cut out almost all processed foods and eats fruits, vegetables and four to eight ounces of meat each day.
“Then I started on the treadmill,” he said.
The exercise machine sits conveniently between the kitchen and the living room, and in the beginning, it was hard to complete a five-minute workout, once a day. But gradually, Grage worked up to 10-minute sets six to eight times a day.
“Some days, I can’t do it three times,” he said.
“It’s based on the weather outside, the humidity,” Becky said. In addition to the treadmill, Grage uses an arm rotating machine for four 10-minute sets daily.
He allows himself to fall off the diet occasionally. Over a three-week period this month, for instance, he made 100 dozen cookies for gifts.
“I had to taste some,” he said with a sly smile. But even baking was strenuous. Grage would put half a batch of cookies on the sheet, rest, then the other half batch.
“It takes me half an hour to empty the dishwasher,” he said. “But I refuse to give up. it’s just not in me.” The weight loss has helped in unexpected ways. Diagnosed with diabetes and sleep apnea at the beginning of his ordeal, he no longer has to take drugs for either. He had needed three heart pills each day, and now he’s taking just a half of one of them.
But the lung disease has changed the Couches’ life in ways that don’t feel so positive, too.
The 1980 Anna High School graduate had always enjoyed woodworking and gardening. Both are now taboo. He can’t risk getting any kind of dust in his lungs. Becky no longer has live plants in the house. Plant spores may be microscopic, but they’re big enough to kill her husband. Because of the medicines he takes, every inch of skin has to be protected from the sun when he goes outside.
They were able to keep Toby, their shih tzu dog, but other pets — fish, birds, iguanas, cats — are forbidden.
Grage is following every rule. And he’s optimistic about his chances of getting a double lung transplant.
“When I get on the list, I could get a transplant in a day or two years. The average (wait) at OSU is two months,” he said. “I want to have it in March.”
“Our 24th wedding anniversary was the day he had his lung biopsy,” Becky said. Their 26th anniversary will be March 6.
In the meantime, he is on a new medicine that slows the progression of the disease, and he’s grateful for his insurance.
“The medicine costs $94,000,” a tab picked up by the insurance company.
The Couches have their share of medical expenses, however. Each year, they have to meet deductibles and copays.
“When he has the transplant, we’ll have to live in Columbus for two months,” Becky added.
That’s why family friends have planned some benefit events to help them with the costs. The first event will be a spaghetti dinner (see sidebar) in February.
For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the “Benefit for Grage Couch” page on Facebook.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.