Despite great medical news, there are pressing issues at home

(Editor-at-Large Walter Wasacz writes a weekly column on life in Hamtramck.)

By Walter Wasacz

The remarkable recovery of Hamtramckan Vladimir “Joe” Vujic continues to captivate us. It’s a story of individual perseverance and teamwork — by a group called Joe’s Army, based in Hamtramck — that turned potentially fatal illness into a story of love and hope.

A brief recap: Vujic was diagnosed with usual interstitial pneumonia, a pulmonary disease characterized by a scarring of both lungs. The disease has no cure and leads to rapid deterioration of the lungs.

Vujic was hospitalized at St. John Oakland then transferred to Henry Ford Hospital, where a medical team evaluated him for a possible transplant. He was placed at the top of the list for a lung transplant — then spent the next two months in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

The transplant team decided that Vujic’s best chance was to increase the potential pool of donors by moving him to a national transplant center at Duke University in North Carolina in late 2010.

Vujic received a new lung on Jan. 1, and has been in rigorous rehabilitation ever since.

Here is the latest report from Anita Surma of Joe’s Army:

“Last Friday, Joe walked 14 laps without his walker in 20 minutes at physical rehabilitation.

“I was fortunate to meet Dr. Zaas, the head of the Pulmonary Transplant Program in Clinic. With the new left lung, Joe is reaching about 90 percent of normal lung function. Dr. Zaas feels the thought of a right lung transplant can be put in storage for the present. …No need! All of Joe’s pulmonary function tests are good. A few weeks ago, there was concern that cancer might be present in the right lung. Joe has a clean bill of health on this front: no cancer anywhere. This Friday Joe has his first Bronchoscopy.

“With all things considered, I think Joe will be home mid- to late-March, a bit later than we hoped. But Joe is very Zen about it. After all he has been through, he is just very positive about doing what needs to be done to keep on the high road to health and well being.

“As some of you know, Joe’s house was and is in need of critical major repairs. Given the strict environmental guidelines all transplant patients must follow, Joe cannot return to his home. And Dr. Zaas confirmed that under no circumstances can Joe work on his house, even with the best mask in the business for filtering out dust/pathogens/viruses/mold/fungus. So Joe will find a temporary apartment; from that place he will consult with family and friends on what is the best decision to make regarding his house.

“He will also be grappling with the even greater challenge of what will be the source of his income — disability or return to work. Duke has not made any determination on whether he can work: they may not be able to until summer or fall. Again, as Joe heals more and more, he has the energy and spirit to face all these new and stressful realities after such a critical illness.

“So in the midst of all the good medical news, I wanted to pose a thought to the many people who made such generous financial contributions. I think Joe needs some “tools” to rebuild his life. To continue his work on Strength/Balance/Walking he needs Two thick yoga mats and a set of weights ($70); to keep a pristine apartment he needs a very good HEPA filter vacuum cleaner ($400) and a steam cleaner ($150); to easily make nutritious meals he needs a skillet/cutting board/some knives/a salad spinner/a few pots (around $125).

“Also, Joe will be faced with new monthly medical costs. So if anyone has any time to commit to new ways of raising money — wow, call us!”

Cards and e-mails to Joe would be welcome.

Send to: Forest Apartments, Apartment 1402, 800 White Pine Drive, Durham, NC 27705. Email:

A website is set up to take donations as well as report on Vujic’s progress. For more details, go here:

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