Donald Ratcliffe sits calmly with a smile on his face underneath his baseball cap. The wrinkles around his eyes and the rough texture of his hands silently tell the story of someone who’s labored long and hard throughout his life.
The oxygen tube running under his nose and across his face, however, shows where the plot took a twist.
“I went up to the hospital and they done a scan, and they told me my working days was over,” he says of the time he found his life had changed. “You coulda took a pillow and knocked me over. I’ve worked hard all my life. And so they come back and told me it was emphysema. Stage four.”
Ratcliffe, who lives in Dublin, tells of what must have been a harrowing event with a good-natured smile on his face, leaning forward in his seat.
“I smoked some, but a lot of it’s got to do with the work I’ve done. I’ve done mining work, construction work, farm work. And that didn’t help matters none,” he says. “It’s not progressed very much since [the diagnosis]. It’s been a good thing. So I’m in the lung transplant program at Duke now.”
Aside from the issue of the transplant itself, Ratcliffe’s main problem now is one that faces many people with medical problems in present-day America: money.
“Insurance doesn’t pay everything. And Duke has asked me to raise some money before the transplant to pay what the insurance don’t pay,” says Ratcliffe. The shortfall is a whopping $20,000. “We’ve had some different ideas. Tony come up with this one. He’s the one that’s going to be doing the running for me Sunday.”
Tony Smith, a friend of Ratcliffe’s, is using his Run Hope Live program to help raise money for Radcliffe’s transplant. Smith, a postal employee in Pulaski and member of the Virginia National Guard, runs for suicide prevention. On July 7, he will run the entire 57-mile length of the New River Trail, ending in Pulaski, dedicating it to Radcliffe’s transplant.
“Whenever he was doing the runs, he posted on there he could do it for anybody. And I asked him about that and he said sure, give him some time to come up with some ideas, and this is the idea he came up with. Which I thought was real good,” says Ratcliffe. “This is the first time he’s going to run this distance. For me. He runs 5.21 miles every day, and he’s increasing that to get ready for this.”
As for how the two met, Ratcliffe says simply, “We went to church together.”
In a statement he released, Smith says he’s creating a Facebook event for the fundraiser. “We are asking those who feel called to sponsor $1 per mile ($57). If that is too much, try 50 cents per mile. Can’t give? Then we ask that you pray for Don and his family.”
He further says that if there are 50 or more people who promise to attend, Run Hope Live will also request the Dora Park facilities so everyone can meet up after the run.
“We’re still going to do more fundraising just to make sure we got–you know, insurance has changed, the cost of everything changes,” says Ratcliffe, “so if we get over $20,000 that would be great, but if we don’t, we’re gonna keep trying until we do get at least that.”
Ratcliffe is at a phase where it’s about time to get the transplant underway.
“They said it would more than likely happen in the next year,” he notes. “They don’t put you on a list—their program is different from anybody else’s. They monitor you until they think you’re about ready for the lung transplant. You move down there. You gotta be within two hours of them. So I have to move down there.”
He continues, “And for two months you do their rehab, and they put you on the list. And then X number of dys, they have a set of lungs and they do the transplant. Then you spend another two months in rehab down there before you can come home. So they have you a set of lungs within 12 to 25 days. Which is amazing. I’ll be down there for at least six months.”
Ratcliffe seems at ease with the whole idea: temporarily moving, going through what may be a trying rehab, having his lungs replaced and waiting to see if all is well after. He has very little obvious fear of going, and speaks matter-of-factly about the most important part—coming back.
“My family is here, and my grandkids and everything are here, so, I’m not gonna be too far from them,” he says.
To make a donation, mail a check payable to the Donald Ratcliffe Fund, Carter Bank & Trust, 998 Memorial Dr., Pulaski, VA 24301. For more information about Run Hope Live, visit www.facebook.com/RunHopeLiveSaves.