Dalton Prager is fighting to breathe so he can see his wife before she dies.
For the first three years of their marriage, Dalton and Katie Prager were like any young newlyweds. They traveled, bought a house and rescued two dogs.
Then the fatal disease that united and will ultimately separate them took over. The Pragers were both born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that first attacks the lungs and also affects the digestive system and multiple other organs. The median age of survival is about 40. But after receiving a lung transplant last year, Katie Prager, 26, never fully recovered.
She developed lymphoma, a blood cancer, and her kidneys have failed. She is on hospice care at home in Kentucky and is not expected to survive into the new year.
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“Decisions have been made that aren’t meant to be made by someone in their 20s with their whole life ahead of them,” Katie wrote on a fundraising page for her end-of-life and funeral expenses. “There are too many things going on in my body to be able to fix everything … I get to spend the rest of my time surrounded by people and things that make me happy.”
At the top of Katie’s wish list is a visit with her husband. But Dalton Prager, 25, also developed complications after his own lung transplant in 2014 and moved back to the St. Louis area near his parents for full-time care. He now has pneumonia and is in intensive care on a ventilator at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, awaiting approval for a medical evacuation to a hospital in Kentucky. When he is healthy enough to be released from that hospital, he can visit Katie at home.
“He has tried so many times, and he has tried so hard. Unfortunately, his body is not agreeing with what he wants to do,” said Dalton’s mother, Renee Prager. “The patients don’t get a win on this one, it’s just how long they can endure it.”
The couple have not seen each other since their fifth anniversary in July, when they spent about 10 minutes together in Katie’s hospital room.
“Our situation hasn’t been ideal, and it hasn’t been the easiest, but the one thing I want people to know is that we still have each other even if it is long distance,” she said. “Even if I don’t get to see him again.”
This weekend will check off some life goals for Katie. She plans to celebrate an early Christmas on Saturday with family and friends. On Sunday, her high school class will gather for a reunion. She still hopes to go swimming for the first time in years and take a ride-along in a police car, “to do some fun stuff before time runs out.” But mostly she wants to see her husband again.
“I just want to hug him and I just want to sit down and have a conversation with him,” she said.
Katie learned about Dalton Prager through a mutual friend and sent him a message on Facebook when they were teenagers. She told him that she understood what he was going through. Their relationship grew from there, and they married in July 2011. For the first few years, they lived together and built a future.
“Just because we have cystic fibrosis doesn’t mean that we’re different, we still like to do stuff normal couples do,” Katie said. “It’s just strange, we figured we’re married, we’d be together every day. We were hoping things would get better and eventually we’d be back together, but it’s not going to end up that way.”
Dalton’s nurse at Barnes-Jewish told Katie that his blood pressure is stable, and they are running tests to make sure he can manage on the ventilator at a low setting required to make the flight. He could be cleared for transfer to the Kentucky hospital as soon as Tuesday. But because she is too sick to visit him in the hospital, he will need to be fully weaned from the ventilator before they can see each other.
Katie said she is not scared to die because of her faith in God. She knows that she will see Dalton again either way.