MAYWOOD, Ill. - When Rick Smeberg walked his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day, he had to drag along a portable oxygen tank due to his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
A double-lung transplant at Loyola University Medical Center enabled Smeberg to live to see his two granddaughters. And today, he is taking care of them full-time - along with a German shepherd - while his daughter and son-in-law are at work.
"My girls are very close to their grandpa, and he is very close to them," said Smeberg's daughter, Jill Boganwright. "He's their world, and they're his world, too."
Smeberg, who lives in Highland, Ind., cares for 2-year-old Kara and 1-year-old Audra, who live in nearby Munster, Ind. He cares for his granddaughters from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week, plus Saturday mornings. Smeberg makes breakfast and lunch, changes diapers, gives baths, walks them in the stroller and finds endless ways to entertain them, such as sidewalk chalk drawings.
"I spoil them, too," he said.
Loyola lung transplant specialist Dr. Daniel Dilling said Smeberg, 66, has no limitations to his lifestyle or function. "He is using his gift very well," Dilling said.
Smeberg's COPD forced him to retire at age 49 from his job as a steel mill heavy equipment mechanic. He spent 10 years tethered to an oxygen tank before receiving a double-lung transplant in 2008.
"Without the transplant, I would have died," he said. "My donor saved my life, and I have been very lucky with the respiratory doctors I have had."
Boganwright said her father has always been a great dad. "And he's even a better grandpa," she said. "He has the biggest heart, and now he has the capability to continue loving and caring."
Loyola's Lung Transplantation Program is the largest in Illinois and among the top centers in the nation. The program takes a holistic approach to care, which addresses patients’ physical, emotional and educational needs.