If you want to track down 69-year-old Pat Mescall on a Saturday night, don’t go looking for him at his Indianapolis eastside home. You’ll have to find your way to Riolo Dance in downtown Indianapolis. That’s where you’ll find the retired firefighter commanding the dance floor.
“I wanted something to do when I retired,” says Pat. “I always liked doing the swing so I took some lessons and got in with a group at the Riolo. I’m there every Saturday night.”
It’s not where you’d expect to find someone who underwent a lung transplant in 2012. During a long recovery fraught with health complications, Pat wasn’t sure he’d make it back to his weekly dance workout. But he wasn’t ready to give up his dance card.
“I love dancing,” says Pat. “My goal was to get back to it.”
An active, social lifestyle was the norm for Pat before health problems developed in 2009. As an Indianapolis firefighter for 40 years, the father of four loved working as an engineer and driving an aerial ladder. He had no intentions of putting his feet up after he retired in 2006 and took a job working with the sheriff’s maintenance department.
In 2009, Pat began tiring out when he cut grass—he always used a push mower to get the exercise—and he found himself taking breaks. Routine tests during a visit to his arthritis doctor, followed by a subsequent appointment with a pulmonologist revealed the reason. Pat had pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive disease that causes lung tissue to become thick and scarred, making it hard to breathe.
“Let’s do it”
Pulmonary rehabilitation, which improves endurance and works to minimize symptoms, became part of Pat’s routine. Over the next three years, you could find him hard at work three days a week at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital.
The disease progressed as Pat knew it would and in 2012 he saw Michael Duncan, MD, an Indiana University Health pulmonary and lung transplantation specialist. That’s when Pat learned he needed a transplant.
“When he told me, he asked if I needed time to think about it,” remembers Pat. “I said ‘No, if I need it, let’s do it.’ I figured it was coming because I was getting worse and worse.”
Pat continued rehabilitation to keep up his strength, started the extensive testing required before a transplant and also began the waiting game of being officially put on the transplant list.
That game ended in October when Pat was admitted to the hospital after struggling to complete his rehabilitation. His lungs were in such bad shape that he was immediately put on the transplant list. Pat’s condition declined so significantly that he doesn’t remember being told three weeks later that a lung was available.
His surgery was a success, but it was the start of a long and bumpy road of recovery. His new lung was severely injured and Pat had to be placed on an external machine that took over the work of his lungs so the injured lung could heal.
“When I remembered waking up, I had a tracheostomy, a feeding tube and three or four other tubes,” says Pat.
Keeping at it to get back at it
After being in intensive care for a month, Pat’s condition slowly improved. But over the next few months, he developed a series of complications — renal failure, diverticulitis, a blood clot, and atrial fibrillation among them — that had him in and out of the hospital six times.
By May, Pat’s recovery finally smoothed out — his lung was functioning the way it should and no more complications developed.
“He kept working with us to get through everything,” says Dr. Duncan. “He really pushed through.”
Pat became a fixture at pulmonary rehab again and once he got strong enough, he headed back to the Riolo with his dancing shoes on.
“I thought I was ready when I first went back,” says Pat. “My partner had to help me off the floor my legs were so weak.”
Pat says the combination of rehabilitation and dancing helped him recover. Both have also been his way to connect with other patients facing transplants and recovery.
“I go to rehab and I know what they’re going through and they know what I’ve gone through,” he says. “That’s why I go back; it’s like a family.”
He promised one of his rehab friends that he’d learn the cha-cha slide and dance it with her after her transplant. He’ll soon have to make good on that promise.
“She just got her lungs so she has something to look forward to when she starts her rehab,” says Pat.
What he’s looking forward to is being back to his full repertoire of dances — he’s just one shy.
“My goal is to get back to the Vietnamese Waltz,” he says. “It’s a hard dance and it wears you out pretty quick.”